CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The film "Hidden Figures," up for a best picture Oscar on Sunday, tells an important historical story that many people didn't know about: The contribution of African-American women in the race to space against the Soviet Union.
The film focuses on three such women, math whizzes and pioneers who worked at the Langley Research Center in the segregated South. Their work not only helped launch John Glenn into orbit, but helped clear the way for African-American women to follow their lead.
Sunday in The Plain Dealer and on cleveland.com, we'll introduce you to three of African-American women currently in leadership positions at the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. Let's call them the Hidden Figures of Cleveland. Each said she was unaware of the details of the contributions made by these math and engineering pioneers in the film and book of the same name. And each hopes her story, along with the buzz surrounding the film, encourages more girls and minorities to pursue careers in the STEM fields -- science, technology, engineering and math.Michael K. McIntyre on hidden figures
You'll meet Mary Lobo, who is in charge of all of the space simulation facilities at NASA Glenn. She was Shaw High School's valedictorian in 1994 and dreamed a career in the arts before her mother pushed her toward engineering at Case Western Reserve University.
Terrian Nowden analyzes power systems for the International Space Station and the next-generation Orion spacecraft. She got her start taking apart her mother's alarm clock. She's a Bedford High grad who started at Tri-C and eventually got a math degree from the University of Akron while working full-time.
And Nancy Hall gets deep into the intricacies of fluid dynamics as she describes her work. She's a sci-fi geek, she says, inspired as a child by a black female role model on television - Star Trek's Lt. Uhura.
And we'll tell you about another pioneer, a local one, who cleared the way for them. Cleveland State graduate Annie Easley, who died in 2011, worked at NASA's Cleveland facility for 34 years, beginning in 1955. She, like the women in the film, began as a human "computer" doing mathematical calculations before the IBM mainframes took over.
Whether "Hidden Figures" wins best picture won't be known until late Sunday night. But in your Sunday Plain Dealer, and on cleveland.com, you'll learn about the work of local women who walk in their footsteps.
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