Students from Teague, Hambrick and Missouri City middle schools came to Rice on April 28 for a special showing of the movie ‘Hidden Figues,’ about three female, African-American “human computers” at NASA and their role in the country’s space flight missions. Organized by Associate Dean of Engineering Yvette Pearson Weatherton, it was designed to help the students see the opportunities available in STEM fields and introduce them to engineering.
“We wanted to let them know the possibilities that are out there,” said Pearson Weatherton about the group of 70 mostly African-American students. “It was also a chance for them to meet people who could become role models for them.”
In addition to the movie showing, the students took part in a panel discussion that featured Dr. Karen Crosby, professor of mechanical engineering at Southern University and program director in the Division of Undergraduate Education at the National Science Foundation; Elizabeth Stewart Smith, PE, CAD model and drawings lead for the NASA Johnson Space Center; Stephen Hunter, manager of ISS computer resources for the NASA Johnson Space Center; and Dr. Renata Ramos, lecturer of bioengineering at Rice. The students were able to ask the panelists questions and hear about how they came to succeed in their careers.
“Be brave enough to believe in yourself,” said Crosby. “You saw in the movie how things were for those women. Things are much improved today, but still not perfect. But you should always persevere.”
Pearson Weatherton said that one of the driving factors behind organizing the event was that she believes Rice’s School of Engineering is very good at both recruiting and retaining women and Hispanic students to the school’s programs, she feels more efforts are needed to attract students from other underrepresented groups, including African-Americans, low-income, and students with disabilities. Ramos said she thought it was important for the students to hear a positive message from people who looked like them or came from similar backgrounds.
“We want them to understand they can do this, if they work hard and set their minds to it,” she said. “And I think the kids really enjoyed the presentation. The atmosphere was so good – they were really feeling it.”
Following the movie screening, there was a pizza lunch. Mark Moll, adjunct professor of computer science, chatted with the students, and introduced them to Igor, a robot from the lab of Professor of Computer Science Lydia Kavraki.