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Human computer project carries forward work begun by author Margot Lee Shetterly’s “Hidden Figures”


On Thurs., Nov. 10 Morehead presented two special events featuring Margot Lee Shetterly, author of the book “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race.” She participated in a special book-club style dinner where attendees had the opportunity to ask questions and express their appreciation for Shetterly’s seminal work. She then gave a sold-out public keynote talk in Morehead’s GlaxoSmithKline Fulldome Theater, followed by a book-signing.

Shetterly’s book, an instant best-seller, tells the true story of the black women who functioned as “human computers” applying math to change their own lives—and their country’s future as NASA and the United States battled the Soviet Union for supremacy in space. The book is being adapted into a major motion picture starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae. The movie opens in early 2017.

“Hidden Figures” spans the decades between 1943 and 1980. Shetterly spent six years researching and writing it. Usually stories around breaking race or gender barriers revolve around one person. Shetterly said that what she found most stunning about her work was “simply how many (women – black and white) there were, the sheer volume, several hundred from all backgrounds.”

And yet, in the course of her work she noted that she was seeing the same questions we are asking today in NASA memos from 50 years ago: How can we get more women and underrepresented populations interested and engaged in STEM disciplines?

During her time with us, Shetterly was repeatedly praised for uncovering these inspirational stories so deservedly and artfully told. Such praise was often followed up with: “What next?” To that, her answer is the Human Computer Project, which she founded in 2014. The mission of the Human Computer Project is to tell the stories of the pioneering women who worked as mathematicians and "computers" at the NACA and NASA in the early days of aeronautics and the American space program. The hope is that these role models will inspire a new generation of women and minorities to pursue careers in STEM fields, and that everyone will gain a broader sense of what mathematicians, engineers and scientists look like. #ilooklikeanengineer

Shetterly wants there to be a singular data base of women scientists and mathematicians – not the exceptions but the multitudes. We applaud that effort – and Margot! http://www.thehumancomputerproject.com/about