Hidden Figures, which is getting good reviews, tells the story of three “colored computers” who helped the U.S. win the space race. As blacks in segregated Virginia in 1961 and women in NASA’s very male culture, they overcame many obstacles.
The movie is based on Margot Lee Shetterly’s book about Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, who started at NASA doing data entry and ended up doing the math that put John Glenn in space — and got him back alive.
Andre Perry, writing in the Washington Monthly, hopes the movie will inspire more black women to pursue math and science careers. While 24 percent of black women over the age of 25 have earned at least a bachelor’s degree, just 2 percent of black women worked as scientists or engineers in 2010, according the National Science Foundation, Perry notes.
Like the women of Hidden Figures, high-achieving black students in the sciences are well aware of the stereotypes that brand them incapable. And like their predecessors, many students are driven by these perceptions.
Mathematician Monica Jackson, an associate professor of statistics at American University, says talented black girls need “good schools, challenging classes and quality teachers” — and “parents, friends, teachers and mentors” that provide support.
A Wichita math club for African-American girls in elementary school is named for NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, one of the subjects of “Hidden Figures,” reports Chandler Boese in the Wichita Eagle.
Eleven girls in the Katherine Johnson Scholar Sisters meet twice a week after school for advanced math lessons.
“It’s fun,” said 9-year-old Phoenix Neely. “We get to learn math.” Another member of the club, Phallin Jackson, said she likes math because “You get to be smart.”
The fourth- and fifth-graders are starting to learn algebra.
I wonder why the club is just for girls.