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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Empowering Women in History

Margot+Lee+Shetterly%2C+Hidden+Figures%3A+The+Untold+Story+of+the+Black+Women+Who+Helped+Win+the+Space+Race%2C+came+to+discuss+her+book+at+the+2017+Common+Ground+Reading+Initiative+event+in+Rudder+Theatre+on+Monday+night.
Photo by Photo by C. Morgan Engel

Margot Lee Shetterly, “Hidden Figures: The Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race,” came to discuss her book at the 2017 Common Ground Reading Initiative event in Rudder Theatre on Monday night.

Before it was a blockbuster movie, “Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race” was a book written by Margot Lee Shetterly that told the stories of the women who were the computers behind putting Americans in space.
Shetterly was hosted by the College of Liberal Arts’ annual Common Ground Reading Initiative in Rudder Theater and spoke to a crowd of students, professors and other guests about the unexpected success of her novel and her recently discovered value of history.
The “Hidden Figures” movie was released on Dec. 26, 2016 and grossed over $231 million. It starred award-winning actresses Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monáe as mathematicians Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson and Mary Jackson, respectively.
Shetterly said she was delighted with the film’s cinematic storytelling and historical accuracy. The author also said she found herself sitting on the edge of her seat as she watched the movie.
“From the opening scenes of the movie until the end credits … I watched the movie as if I had never heard of Katherine Johnson or Dorothy Vaughan or Mary Jackson,” Shetterly said.
Shetterly spent much of her speech highlighting the hidden contributions made by black female NASA mathematicians in the early twentieth-century and analyzing one question in particular.
“Why then, has it taken so long to tell their stories?” Shetterly said. “We could have turned Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden and all of their colleagues into professional role models.”
Aerospace engineering senior Makiah Eustices said seeing Hidden Figures was important for her because she comes from a biracial family and people of color weren’t often showed in movies in this field she is currently studying.
“We didn’t really get to see those types of movies highlighting black people in science and math, so I was already excited about space and exploration,” Eustices said. “I was excited to share that with my family and they were excited to learn more. None of us knew that there was these women doing these great things at NASA.”
Before writing, Shetterly graduated from the University of Virginia in 1991 and originally intended to pursue a career in investment banking. She worked as an investment banker in New York City for approximately five years before moving to Mexico with her husband, Aran, where they founded their magazine, “Inside Mexico.”
Shetterly said that was when she began to evaluate, in detail, the role that African Americans have played in our country’s extensive history.
She said she can recall dreading the days in which African-American history was covered in her classes and the overwhelming theme of tragedy and oppression highlighted in her school’s textbooks.
But more importantly, during these classes, Shetterly said she saw a lack of recognition for the historical contributions of black men and women.
“The textbooks offered cursory information about the state of blacks in America,” Shetterly said. “But virtually nothing about black Americans as individuals. What I wanted to know when I was [a student] was, ‘Where were the stories of the protagonists?’”
Shetterly answered this question by conducting her very own research and sharing all of her findings with the rest of the world. In writing her novel, Shetterly said she saw the contributions of these influential women not only as stories that needed to be told, but as lessons to be learned.
“The secondary narrative of ‘Hidden Figures’ is all about the transformative power of education and what our society can accomplish when we give all of our citizens access to a quality education,” Shetterly said.
Eustices said having this part of history represented is important because having these types of figures up front can show a diverse group of people what their paths in life can be and the different directions they can take.
“Coming from a non-STEM focused, non-technical family, even though I love my childhood and everything that came with it, I didn’t have a lot of exposure to that side and if there were more women of color, more direct role models, more movies, just up front exposure to a diversity of people and actually show the spectrum that that’s in our history, you would see it more reflected in our thoughts now, our diversity now,” Eustices said.
Eustices said that as far as she knows, last year she was the only female African American cadet in the aerospace engineering department. She said she recently took part in the Brooke Owens Fellowship program which brought together undergraduates women with women in the aerospace industry.
“We basically had a fellowship, a cohort of women who are supportive, who are driven and had different perspectives — not just as women, but women of color, from different cultures, who are immigrants,” Eustices said. “It’s been a really great experience and now you know that these are the people that are gonna be the leaders and you can create a supportive environment for everyone by having this fellowship.”
Aside from her work with the novel and film, “Hidden Figures,” Shetterly also founded “The Human Computer Project,” a virtual-museum dedicated to honoring the contributions of NASA’s women of color and their shared roles in many groundbreaking space missions.
As her speech neared its end, Shetterly left her audience with a final task: To find the ‘hidden figures’ in each and everyone’s life, learn their stories and share them to inspire a new generation of far reaching Americans.

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