"Hidden Figures" Special Screening Inspires America’s Future Scientists

(3BL Media/Justmeans) – The JetBlue Foundation recently partnered with The Greater New York Chapter of The Links Inc. to host a special screening of Hidden Figures specifically for young people, who are often under-represented in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and careers. This film is a powerful story, focusing on the three African-American women behind NASA’s first successful space missions in the 1960s. Starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe as the three female scientists along with Kevin Costner, playing a tough but decent NASA boss, and Mahershala Ali, as a National Guard officer. They all bring considerable charm to a script filled with humor and heart. The stars of Hidden Figures were the big winners at this year’s Screen Actors Guild awards.

During the 1960s scramble to put an astronaut in orbit, this trio of African-American female mathematicians worked behind the scenes at NASA, doing the complex calculations that sent Alan Shepard and John Glenn to space. Making this the perfect inspiration for young women of colour who are not often exposed to STEM. This particular screening started with a panel featuring women and minority pilots: Captain Becky Roman-Amador, Captain Ophneal Kellman Jr. and First Officer Kimberly McCommon who shared how STEM has shaped their careers. In addition to the movie, concessions and a copy of the book, Hidden Figures by Margot Shetterly, were provided to all who attended.

The JetBlue Foundation invited past grant winners and partner schools and programs from the New York metropolitan area to watch the film. However, at $15 per movie ticket, the demographic that needs to see it the most may not be able to afford to see it in theaters. The actresses in the film recently made news for funding screenings for low-income families. 

STEM education in the States is critical to its young people, as jobs in this field in America are expected to grow nearly twice as fast as other sectors by 2018. Unfortunately, there is a shortage of both interested and adequately prepared K-12 students in STEM subjects, especially among minority youth and young women. Gaps in science and math achievement for African-Americans, Latinos and American Indians/Alaska Natives start as early as the fourth grade. Plus, only 15 percent of female high school students express an interest in this area, compared to 40 percent of male high school students.

This gap in STEM education is likely to widen unless organisations develop ways for more underrepresented youth to succeed in STEM careers. Therefore, to cultivate leaders with these much needed skills, there needs to be an increased emphasis on STEM education combined with innovative and creative thinking, which is why Hidden Figures is an important film. It has the potential to inspire the next generation of young female students from minority groups, because it is entertaining as it is educational.

Photo Credit: Jet Blue Foundation/3BL Media