Margot Lee Shetterly, whose bestselling biography Hidden Figures led to the critically-acclaimed, hit film of the same name, gave a lecture January 24, 2017 to a packed auditorium at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She also had an overflow crowd at her fireside chat and book signing as part of Michigan Engineering’s extended Dr. Martin Luther King Symposium.
Set in the segregated 1960s, Shetterly’s book, Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, tells the true story of three black women who played key roles in NASA missions, including Project Mercury and the Apollo 11 flight to the moon.
Shetterly’s keynote explored the need for a greater diversity of voices in science and the STEM fields as the future of American innovation. She discussed race, gender, science and the history of technology. U-M President Mark Schlissel introduced her.
At the fireside chat, Shetterly was joined by Professor Alec Gallimore, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering. It was followed by a book signing.
Shetterly is also the founder of the Human Computer Project, a digital archive of the stories of NASA’s African-American “Human Computers” whose work tipped the balance in favor of the United States in WWII, the Cold War and the Space Race.
Shetterly spoke with Alexis Pyles (photo on right), 10, from Romulus, MI, after Pyles became flustered while describing the challenges that she and her classmates face.
Pyles is in an accelerated program in her school and was inspired to write a book about her classmates after reading Shetterly's book. While Pyles and the rest of her classmates earn some of the top marks in their school, she says they face poverty, emotional and physical abuse, and a variety of other challenges outside of school.
"We really have to work more than others to earn what we get in life," Pyles said. "It's not fair."
Pyles hopes to be a Michigan Engineer in the future.
The event was sponsored by Michigan Engineering, The Center for Engineering Diversity & Outreach, Women in Science and Engineering, the Department of Aerospace Engineering, The University of Michigan-Dearborn College of Engineering & Computer Science, Rackham Graduate School, and the U-M Department of Afroamerican & African Studies.
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Photos by Joseph Xu, Michigan Engineering Communications & Marketing