'Hidden Figures' promotes STEM to women, minorities

The Oscar-nominated film “Hidden Figures” offers a “revolutionary” impact in promoting STEM to women and minorities, according to Virginia Booth Womack, director of the Minority Engineering Program at Purdue University.

Womack, previously a practicing engineer for several years, said the movie shows the importance of mathematics to our society, and it presents the discipline to young people in a way that makes it exciting.

“This movie was very influential in showing women and minorities that there is no limit to what is possible if you believe in yourself,” Womack said. “Belief and perseverance were the power of the movie, in spite of seemingly unsurmountable obstacles.”

 “Hidden Figures,” nominated for an Oscar for Best Motion Picture, recounts the stories of three black female mathematicians and their work at NASA in launching John Glen into orbit in 1962.

Womack said “Hidden Figures” shows the collaborative nature of the STEM fields - science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“Math was not just presented as a lot of redundant problems to solve, but as the gateway to science, engineering and technology,” she said. “There were clear applications of mathematics in redesigning the capsule of the spacecraft to improve aerodynamics and structural integrity, operating the IBM systems, as well as bringing the spacecraft safely back into earth’s atmosphere.”

She noted the movie demonstrates the importance of overcoming issues of racism and discrimination.

“This movie is a timely and powerful portrayal of critical issues of racism and sexism in recent American history that, left unaddressed, would have severely limited America’s competitiveness in space,” Womack said. “It illustrates that when we move beyond the constraints of discriminatory mindsets, we achieve greatness as a nation.”

The Academy Awards are Sunday (Feb. 26). 

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