Hidden Figures and ITSMF
By Carla Ogunrinde, ITSMF Chairperson
February 2, 2017
Before the Oscar-nominated film, Hidden Figures, hit theaters, the words “black,” “women,” engineering,” “mathematics,” and “space race” would have seldom been organized into a single, coherent, and comprehensible sentence. But, thanks to Margot Lee Shetterly who authored the compelling novel the film is based on, those words now inspire a new way of thinking about the often-overlooked women who made a significant impact on the historic moments we honor today.
ITSMF Board members had the extraordinary great fortune to spend the day at The University of Michigan, where it hosted over 1,000 people on Tuesday, January 24th, as part of an MLK celebration called #IAmNotHidden.
In an auditorium packed with eager readers and many black superhero hopefuls, Margot shared how several hundred black women used their mathematical genius as part of NASA’s West Computing Group in 1943. While these women were incredibly intelligent, they were also unremarkable in their simple desire to fully pursue the American Dream. They were not revolutionaries or activists; they had families, went to church, participated in the community, and put in long hours at work, as many of us do.
What made these women extraordinary was their unshakable confidence to show up fully in the imperfect moment presented to them: working as a human “computer” in a segregated and hostile Virginia, USA. Leaning forward in our seats, we learned there were many women doing this daunting work and, in many subtle and not-so-subtle ways, they knew to persistently “take themselves out of peoples’ blind spots and insist over and over again to have their part.”
Margot described their “ferocious willingness” to live and demand what they wanted, and look beyond obstacles of race, gender, and restrictions. Katherine Johnson, physicist, mathematician, and main (focus) of both the novel and the film, carries this reminder from her father: “you are no better than anyone else and no one is better than you.” A simple truth that brings YOU into focus instead of the obstacles surrounding you.
During our “right now” moment in time, I am sure that on occasion we will find reasons for despair and despondency. But, with a full heart and grateful soul, I take with me lessons of persistence and grace. Thanks to Margot’s passionate research, we have new and remarkable models of living an unabridged life, and of fiercely pursuing our own page, chapter, volume, or foot note in this amazing American story.
EMERGE, the ITSMF Women’s Leadership Forum, begins its formal chapter as the newest ITSMF Academy. The year-long curriculum will enable the participant to “hear” HER voice; increase the representation of women of color at senior levels of technology through a series of professional workshops, supportive environments and model leadership, and by doing so amplify the nuance of women leaders. Join us May 9th, 2017 as we shine a light on our own modern day hidden figures. Thank you Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson and Christine Darden. Thank you to Erika Jefferson,
President & Founder of Black Women in Science & Engineering (BWISE), for enabling our ITSMF family members to prescreen the movie around the country. And finally, thank you, Robert Scott, Director of Diversity for The University of Michigan’s Engineering Diversity and Outreach, for the invitation and VIP treatment, (ITSMF membership does have its privileges).
ITSMF #closethegap; #nurturedleaderstransformingfutureleaders