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Not So Hidden Figures

With rave reviews and three Oscar nominations, Hidden Figures is widely recognized as both a beautiful film and a learning experience.

The movie is based on the true stories of three particular human “computers,” the black women who did the computations necessary for NASA to send astronauts to space and bring them home safely during segregation and the Cold War. These women were at the forefront of calculating orbital trajectories, understanding (electronic) computer programming, and allowing black women to become engineers respectively. All three urged the science community to embrace the diversity they brought to the industry, highlighting the necessity of and strength in diversity.

Although STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields are still heavily male-dominated, women continue contributing to progress in science; Tierra Guinn is one of these women. Her mother, an accountant, inspired Guinn’s love of math-based subjects. By middle school, Guinn knew she wanted to be an aerospace engineer.

Currently attending MIT and maintaining a 5.0 GPA, 22-year-old Guinn works for Boeing as a rocket structural design and analysis engineer on the space launch system that Boeing is making for NASA. The project aims to create the most powerful rocket ever built in order to take large payloads and people to Mars in the next few years.

“There’s no telling where we’ll be going next,” Guinn said, “maybe we’ll make it to Pluto. But diversity is a key component.”

Alongside Guinn in current times, more women of color are forging new boundaries in STEM. Dr. Ruth Jones works at NASA investigating sources of problems that could potentially hinder NASA’s missions. Also, she is the first woman to earn a Bachelors of Science in Physics from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. In talking about her original plans for college, Jones said, “I majored in accounting because I knew it was easier and I wanted to enjoy the college life.” Her plans fell through when she found her accounting classes too easy to hold her interests. In her junior year, she took a professor’s advice to pursue a more challenging major: physics. “He failed to tell me that I was the only physics major on campus,” said Jones. She was making history before she knew it. After she finished her undergraduate and graduate study, Jones became the second black woman to earn a doctorate in physics at Alabama A&M.

The first black woman to earn such a degree is Dr. Shelia Nash-Stevenson. As Nash-Stevenson’s childhood love of math blossomed, she considered becoming a math teacher.  That changed with the encouragement of her math professor, who recognized Nash-Stevenson’s potential, and persuaded her to further her education. Currently, she works as an engineer for the Planetary Programs Missions Office at NASA.

Motivation from within and from those around them pushed these modern women to become the forces of nature that they are today. In the same way that these women found encouragement in parents and professors, Hidden Figures creates an opportunity for young girls to dream that one day they too can head STEM innovation. The film can inspire young girls to become more involved in STEM, which could lead to pursuing careers in the field, breaking the homogeneity trend, and fostering innovation. Thus far, it seems the journey into space begins with revealing hidden figures.

Featured Image by NASA Kennedy on Flickr

Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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