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Sunday 19 January 2020
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TT scholar heads to Silicon Valley

Kalisa Villafana
Kalisa Villafana

TRINIDAD-BORN Kalisa Villafana, who only last week became the first African-American woman to get a PhD in nuclear physics from Florida State University (FSU), will be heading to Santa Clara, in Silicon Valley, California, to take up a job with Intel Corporation, the American-based multinational corporation and technology company.

She said to Newsday: “Now that I have a PhD in nuclear physics, I have gained experience in accelerator science, semiconductor detectors, analysing data and presenting my findings.

“I will use those skills and transfer them to the semiconductor industry. I have accepted a position with Intel Corporation, the world’s leader in semiconductor manufacturing.

“I also plan to pursue a certificate in medical physics, so at some point I can work in that field. My ultimate goal is to use my background in the applications of medical physics and cancer research.”

Villafana was born in Trinidad, and grew up in Chaguanas. She attended Chaguanas Government Primary School and then Holy Faith Convent, Couva.

Then one day, when she visited a college fair at the International School of Port of Spain, she was recruited to Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee, Florida.

There Villafana started her bachelors degree in 2008 in physics.

After graduating she returned home for a year to work and then decided she wanted to study more. So she returned to the US in 2012, to do her PhD in physics at FSU, where she first got a masters in 2015, then her PhD this year.

Asked what made her go in that direction and who and what were her influences, she said: “I always give credit to my math and physics teachers from Convent (HNC, Couva) for planting that first seed of excitement in me.

“Ms Robinson and Ms Matthew – they made me want to challenge myself and made me excited about STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Then after coming to the US and being exposed to research, I realised that this is what I want to do. I enjoy using math and physics to understand complex problems.”

Villafana said she tries to visit her homeland at least once or twice a year, but at Christmas time, she always wants to be home with family and friends and she is hoping to be home this Christmas.

As to her goals, she said: “My immediate goal is to establish myself in the research industry and gain valuable experience so I can put all my academic background to work.

“Ultimately I want to be established enough to give back to my school, Holy Faith Convent, Couva, and to help anyone who wants to pursue a degree in STEM, in particular physics.

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