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On Hidden Figures Words by: Brittany Edwards

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I have always been more interested in Math and Science than English and History. My recollection of English and Social Studies growing up is basically cramming vocabulary words the night before a quiz and learning about pilgrims, slavery, the revolutionary and civil wars, Christopher Columbus, and then becoming old enough to opt out of taking the classes all together.  I don’t even think my History books cared enough to go past Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination in 1968 or anything besides wars and the dissemination/assimilation of cultures into whiteness. I am 98% sure I learned about exploration to the moon from an “Even Stevens” episode. The only bits of multicultural influence in my studies were the non-American scientists (many of the notable ones) whose theorems and principles I learned and practiced. So, there should be no surprise that I have never heard the names Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, or Mary Jackson before “Hidden Figures”. 

I do not believe in coincidences (not anymore at least) so I do think that the majority of my Math and Science teachers in middle and high school were women meant something. It without a doubt contributed to my attraction to and success in the STEM field (a testament to the importance of representation). Now, as a woman with engineering degrees who works as an engineer at an aerospace company, I don’t walk into a room and feel intimidated by the male-female ratio. However, there is always a piercing realization when I see no one else of color but myself.

When I first started my job, I sat on a floor of about 60 people – about 20 women, 6 people of color, and 1 who fit into both categories – myself. The novelty of being “the only one” wears off quickly once the feelings of being a token, not supported, alone, etc. begin to sink in. I am grateful to be surrounded by such powerful, strong, successful STEM women throughout my levels of education and work experience, but it kills me to admit my own ignorance of such powerful women of color who did such amazing, relevant, crucial, spectacular work for one of America’s greatest scientific achievements. 

I am filled with such adoration, respect, and confidence when I meet or learn about another woman in engineering, specifically dealing with computational mathematics and systems, so the work of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson truly fill my heart. Computing trajectories of object on earth is hard enough, but to be able to manually compute the trajectory of an object in space between two planets is just simply spectacular. I am grateful Theodore Melfi and Allison Schroeder created this film and illuminated such warriors of science.

I am even more proud to be an engineer at an aerospace company because I now know the stories of these Black female pioneers. The work they did was no easy feat and they deserve all the credit they are finally receiving. Major shoutouts to Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary for being intellectual badasses and some of my newest role models. 

 

Brittany Edwards
Brittany Edwards is an Washington University in St. Louis alumna. She is an electrical and systems engineer working in aerospace with interests varying from physics and space exploration to the latest fashion releases and music. As a black woman in STEM she has noticed the lack of representation and is truly committed to working to abate this deficit.
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