02:13 AM

Students learn lesson of perseverance from Hidden Figures

Local teachers and engineers discuss Hidden Figures
Local teachers and engineers discuss Hidden Figures Photo by Kevin Fitzsimons

Students from middle and high school and college filled a Columbus theater Saturday morning to learn about the history of the African-American women who helped do the math that put Americans in space.

The Ohio Department of Education hosted a screening of the movie Hidden Figures with the help of The Ohio State University, Columbus State Community College, Wilberforce University, Battelle and COSI. The screening was followed by experts from those organization answering student questions.

Hidden Figures follows the careers of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson. The women worked as scientists and mathematicians at NASA during the Mercury space flights.

Damonique Thomas discusses the movie
Photo by Kevin Fitzsimons

“I loved seeing women in tech, not just STEM, but tech in general. There are not many black women in computer science. I didn’t have that growing up, so it was nice to see that in the movie,” said Damonique Thomas, a fourth-year computer science and engineering major at Ohio State. Thomas also served as a panelist following the movie.

The women in the movie face the challenges of institutionalized segregation as well as trying to build a career in a male-dominated work place. Their work ultimately helps enable the successful Friendship 7 flight that saw John Glenn orbit the earth.

“The people who may have been inspired by John Glenn now have three new heroes who have existed for a long time but the awareness about them has just been fairly recent,” said State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria.

The educators who spoke to students after the film ended said the heroes in Hidden Figures had to overcome the challenge of being pioneers in their field as well. Similar challenges remain today.

Professor Monica Cox on Hidden Figures
Photo by Kevin Fitzsimons

“Even in today’s society people have to understand they will sometimes be the first, particularly in STEM, and you cannot be afraid of going out there,” said Professor Monica Cox, chair of Ohio State’s Department of Engineering Education.

Cox said the movie also shows how important it is for teachers and mentors to help their students and colleagues.

“When you are in a position of leadership, then you are a voice for other people as well and you have an opportunity to open a door for other people,” she said.

Ohio State will host more events tied to Hidden Figures in the next few months. There will be a screening at the Gateway Film Center in February. And author Margot Lee Shetterly, who wrote the book upon which the movie is based, is expected to attend several functions on a trip to the Columbus campus planned for March.

Learn more about what Ohio State is doing to support women in STEM