Hidden Figures Movie Night!
By SWE San Diego Past Presidents and Life Members Karen Lawrence and Debra Kimberling
SWE San Diego saw the movie Hidden Figures on opening night in a sold out theater. Twenty SWE members and guests attended ranging in age from middle schoolers to retirees. The invitation read, “to be inspired by the pioneering female STEM role models you didn't know and the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the space race to launch an astronaut into orbit. John Glenn refused to fly until Katherine Johnson verified the calculations of the first electronic computer by hand.”
Hidden Figures brought to light the role of human “computers ... "
The female mathematicians or "computers" performed trajectory calculations by hand prior to the introduction of machines with the same name. While very few had heard of human
computers or the female protagonists of this story, it is fascinating to compare their lives to San Diego SWE Fellow and WWII human computer Alice Anderson who passed away last year at age 100.
The film depicted the style and persona of Alice, our role model, so well, from skirts and high heels to how she was referred to as being very accurate in her calculations and extremely gracious in her demeanor.
The movie showed the realities of life in the south during the early sixties and the separate and segregated workplace rules our female protagonists faced. The movie also demonstrated the progressive management attitudes that were required to step around these challenges and allow these mathematicians and engineers to do their work.
Our San Diego students of today found the movie astonishing not only in the high mental capacity displayed by these mathematicians but also by the amount of pushback they received from both men and women.
Maya Rozenshteyn, Patrick Henry High School SWENext Club President, said, “My favorite part of the movie was how dignified their responses were to the criticisms they received, and how they used them to propel themselves forward, rather than wallowing and therefore perpetuating these negative stereotypes.”
At the end of the movie, they earned the respect of nearly everyone.
"The women were wonderful role models,” said Maya’s father.
If we had heard of these remarkable STEM role models 50, 30 or even 10 years ago, imagine what their impact would have been on STEM and the generations of female students who followed. It was great to see a movie that showed scientists and engineers in a positive and exciting light. The final few moments of the film showed actual photos of Katherine Johnson (physicist), Dorothy Vaughan (computer supervisor), and Mary Jackson (aerospace engineer) and noted their long distinguished careers at NASA and rise to important senior positions. It was a fitting end to the movie. Well worth seeing. Two thumbs up.