The field of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) has always been notoriously white and male-dominated, with implicit biases and workplace harassment often excluding women from the field. While popular media has made strides in the recognition of women in STEM careers, as a demographic, they’re still chronically underrepresented. CBS’s educational program “Mission Unstoppable” aims to change that.
Hosted by Miranda Cosgrove (“iCarly”), “Mission Unstoppable” showcases incredible and accomplished women who break gender stereotypes, showing young girls that they can succeed in STEM fields. By introducing the audience to zoologists, mathematicians, astronauts and nuclear engineers, “Mission Unstoppable” shows that there’s nothing women can’t achieve. First premiering in 2019, the inspirational show went on to be nominated for two daytime Emmy Awards in 2020, and it was renewed for a third season this January. Its most recent episode starred University of Michigan alum Dr. Ciara Sivels, who graduated in 2018 as the first Black woman to receive a Ph.D. from the University in nuclear engineering.
The University’s nuclear engineering program is considered one of the best programs in the country, making Dr. Sivels’s feat even more impressive. While she spent her first year as the only Black woman in the program, she was able to create a support system as time went on, finding friends both on and off campus. For a time, Sivels wasn’t aware that she would be the first Black woman to graduate from her Ph.D. program, but when she realized, she didn’t let it faze her. “Once I found out (I was) going to be the first one, sometimes I used it as motivation, but I didn’t want to see it as pressure,” Sivels said. “Why not be the first?” While she was undoubtedly surprised to be the first in her position, she does make the point that nuclear engineering is a small field with little exposure — something she aimed to fix with her episode on “Mission Unstoppable.”
In her episode, which you can stream on Roku or watch on YouTube, Dr. Sivels gives a teen-friendly explanation of how to build an at-home particle detector, or cloud chamber — a trick she picked up here at the University. “It was fun for me to be able to share that on a larger scale,” Sivels said. “Now that it’s on CBS Unstoppable, it’ll reach more kids (who) will be able to see how fun and how applicable nuclear engineering is.”
“Mission Unstoppable” is presented by the IF/THEN initiative, whose mission is to further advance women in the STEM field by inspiring the next generation of young women and showing them anyone can be a scientist. As an ambassador of IF/THEN herself, Dr. Sivels hopes to uphold their message through her work and participation in the series.
“Someone saw something in me and changed my trajectory,” Sivels said. “So I think it’s very important, especially in fields that don’t have as much diversity … for us to tell these stories and share our experiences,” as she does through “Mission Unstoppable.”
“Mission Unstoppable” explains science and STEM-related topics in an accessible way — I honestly learned more from Dr. Sivels’s explanation of radiation and radioactive decay than I ever did in my high school honors chemistry class. The show doesn’t drag on about semantics or get carried away with details — it gets the timing exactly right, coming off as lighthearted while remaining interesting and, above all, fun. The presentation of the science experiments is engaging, and with the goal of bringing STEM to a younger audience in mind, that’s exactly what it needs.
I’m not embarrassed to say that watching “Mission Unstoppable” made me a little bit emotional (OK fine, very emotional). Watching a show with the specific goal of uplifting women and inspiring girls is unbelievably gratifying and I was overjoyed to see it. “Mission Unstoppable” really is the definition of girl power, and if you’re a mother, sister, grandmother or aunt with an amazing young woman in your life, I encourage you both to give it a watch.
Daily Arts Contributor Annabel Curran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: The show was originally stated to be renewed for season two, which has been corrected to season three.