The Oscar-nominated movie Hidden Figures chronicles the inspiring story of three brilliant African American women mathematicians who, despite the barriers put in their way, played a pivotal role in one of our nation’s greatest achievements. These “human computers” performed by hand the complex mathematical calculations required to put a man into orbit around the Earth.
To commemorate Women’s History Month, the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum (NASM) hosted U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Ivanka Trump, Astronaut Kay Hire, women from NASA and more than 400 local students at an event celebrating STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) that culminated in a viewing of the film.
The students, from a number of D.C., Maryland and Virginia schools, were treated to exhibits celebrating space exploration, motivational presentations and, of course, the movie.
Astronaut Hire greeted the students at the Living and Working in Space exhibit, describing the day-to-day life of living and working in low earth orbit. The schoolchildren also visited exhibits on Black Holes and Moon Rocks, where NASM “explainers” discussed museum artifacts.
In the auditorium, the adults were inspired by the students’ knowledge and enthusiasm for learning and eager to share their own inspirational stories.
NASM Aerospace Educator Dr. Barb Gruber told the students, “I want to instill in you that learning never stops.” NASM John and Adrienne Mars Director John R. Dailey challenged the students to imagine what great milestones they could achieve.
Explainer Rae Stewart noted that even those artifacts in the museum that appeared small and unremarkable “may have helped change history.”
The physics and astrophysics major also advised them, “Don’t listen to those voices who tell you you can’t…You can do it and we believe in you.”
Trump hailed the accomplishments of trailblazing women in STEM, such as the heroes in the movie, and looked to the assembled students to forge even greater paths in the future. “I can only imagine where we’re going to be in another 50 years,” she declared.
Secretary DeVos described her awe and pride at witnessing the first moon landing – another landmark event in the Apollo program on which the women in the movie worked as well as in our nation’s, and the world’s, history. She encouraged the schoolchildren: “It doesn’t matter whether you’re a boy or a girl, whether you’re black or white, you can be great at whatever you do, so long as you believe in yourself, you work hard, and you stay true to your convictions.”
“We’ve been sending people into space the same way for more than 50 years,” Astronaut Hire declared, adding these students would be the ones NASA would be looking to for “some new ideas.” She described the International Space Station, which she helped build, as “a glorious monument to what we can do when we work together in these STEM fields.” The Secretary praised Hire as “someone who personifies trailblazing women.”
The students were also treated to a panel of women working in STEM for NASA. Sandra A. Cauffman, Andrea I. Razzaghi and Aprille Ericsson described their experiences and the hard work and persistence that allowed them to overcome their own sets of obstacles.
The heroes in Hidden Figures “opened so many doors,” as Stewart put it. For today’s students, with a STEM education and hard work, the sky’s the limit!