For Students, ‘Hidden Figures’ Author’s Visit Adds to Inspiring Story
Margot Lee Shetterly Shares Advice, Emphasizes the Need for More Stories of Other Unsung Heroes
Like the women featured in the book and movie Hidden Figures, UT Dallas student Reem Dawelbeit plans to work in a field where she will be among a small percentage of women and even smaller percentage of African-Americans.
The mechanical engineering junior said the story of the African-American female mathematicians and engineers who played a critical role in NASA’s space program showed her that other women already have started a path.
“When you’re a minority or a double minority, you read Hidden Figures and you see the movie and it’s inspiring because you realize that you’re not the first person to do this,” Dawelbeit said. “To have these trailblazers in front of you who were an integral part of our history, in the NASA space launch, I found that incredible.”
“The fact that Margot Lee Shetterly took the time not only to visit the UT Dallas community but to meet with leaders of these organizations meant a lot to me.”
Dawelbeit was one of many students from UT Dallas, area high schools, middle schools, elementary schools and nonprofit groups inspired by Hidden Figures who packed the recent Distinguished Lecture featuring the book’s author, Margot Lee Shetterly, at The University of Texas at Dallas.
Texas Instruments sponsored the lecture, held in the Edith O'Donnell Arts and Technology Building’s lecture hall, and a private reception with Shetterly was sponsored by the George W. Jalonick III and Dorothy Cockrell Jalonick Memorial Distinguished Lecture Series. Dr. Kelli Palmer, assistant professor of biological sciences in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, moderated the event.
While Hidden Figures has helped many young women see what is possible, Shetterly emphasized the need for everyone to tell more stories of other “hidden figures,” or unsung heroes in our communities. She said people often ask her why they had never heard about the contributions of the women portrayed in Hidden Figures before.
“The only way to make the American story a true story is to make it a complete story,” Shetterly told the audience. “When storytellers strive to present a more expansive and truer view of our shared past, we open the door to a more inclusive and more equitable vision of our shared future.”
Before the lecture, Shetterly met with UT Dallas student leaders who asked her questions. Argelia Simon, a mechanical engineering senior in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, was one of several students who shook Shetterly’s hand and posed for a photo with the author.
“I was inspired by the movie,” Simon said. “Thanks to that, I got introduced to engineering.”
“The fact that Margot Lee Shetterly took the time not only to visit the UT Dallas community but to meet with leaders of these organizations meant a lot to me,” said Dawelbeit, a leader in the UT Dallas chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers.
Before she enrolled in the program, Dawelbeit said some told her that mechanical engineering was not a career for women. Just as discouraging was the fact that only 1 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in engineering are awarded to black women, according to the National Science Foundation.
During the meeting with student leaders, Shetterly shared advice she learned from the women she interviewed.
“Don’t take no for an answer,” Shetterly said. She described a scene in Hidden Figures in which mathematician Katherine Johnson, who calculated trajectories for many NASA missions, insisted that she attend meetings previously attended only by men.
“It’s a great lesson for all of us. If someone says no and they are the obstacle between you and whatever your goal is, keep asking or keep pushing. Eventually, you will find a way.”
Shetterly met with a group of UT Dallas student leaders before her recent lecture at the University.
Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].