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"Hidden Figures" Screening Inspires Students to Follow STEM-H Path

By Noell Saunders

"If they can do it, I can do it, too."

Those were the words Granby High School student Carmen Simmons uttered after attending a private screening of the hit movie "Hidden Figures," hosted by Old Dominion University's Batten College of Engineering and Technology.

A crowd of 200 mostly female students and their teachers, from five Norfolk public schools, were invited to the screening at MacArthur Center Stadium. "Hidden Figures" focuses on three female African-American mathematicians -- Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson -- who helped NASA put a human on the moon.

Simmons, filled with emotion, said the film motivated her to keep pushing toward her dream of becoming an engineer for the Air Force.

Bonita Anthony, director of advising for the college, encouraged students to pursue STEM-H (science, technology, engineering, math and health care) careers. "Look beyond the barriers and look beyond your own insecurities to know that you can do it," Anthony said.

Stephanie G. Adams, the first woman and African-American to be dean of ODU's Batten College of Engineering and Technology, shared her story of transcending barriers.

Adams told students to dream big and attend college. "I hope you are forever changed," Adams said. "I am forever changed."

Attendees included engineering students from Old Dominion and Norfolk State University. Guests included Christine Darden -- a scientist featured in Margot Lee Shetterly's book, "Hidden Figures," but not in the movie - and engineers Julie Williams-Byrd and Sharon Monica Jones from NASA's Langley Research Center.

Darden worked for NASA for 40 years. She was the first African-American woman to be promoted to a senior executive service position there. She told the audience it was her seventh time watching "Hidden Figures." Each time it brought her to tears when thinking about how far women have come since the 1960s. Darden recounted being denied opportunities for advancement, struggles also faced by the women in "Hidden Figures."

Since childhood, she said, she enjoyed trying to figure out how things work. "I got a bicycle when I was 5 or 6 years old, and my brother rode it a lot and messed up the brakes. I learned how to take a coat hanger and use it to tighten the brakes," Darden said.

Her curiosity led her to become a mathematician, data analyst and aeronautical engineer.

Adams closed the event with a statement from Katherine Johnson, whom she met before the screening. Adams said Johnson's advice was, "If you always do your best, they will never ask you to do it again."

Each student received a free copy of the "Hidden Figures" book, signed with an inspirational message by faculty and staff members of the Batten College of Engineering and Technology.

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