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Dear Margo Lee Shetterly

Sofia Tomov
Knoxville
7th - 8th Grade
1st

Dear Ms. Margo Lee Shetterly

Spaceflight captures the imagination not only because it pushes the limit of technological innovation, but also because it encompasses the human drives to explore and break boundaries. Before I read your book, my understanding of how the United States achieved spaceflight was limited to a few key figures in my history books: Robert Goddard, Wernher von Braun, the Apollo astronauts. I never questioned the conventional narrative, and bought the story that the U.S. won the space race due to the brilliance and bravery of these men. Your book, Hidden Figures: the American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, changed my view of the world by opening my eyes to how scientific progress actually happens – I now have a much greater appreciation for the story behind the story, and a keen interest in digging deeper into the standard narrative. When I read your book, I was shocked by the discrimination Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson confronted as African American women mathematicians at NASA. However, I was even more awed by how they persevered to overcome prejudice, achieve their ambitions, and help their country. Your book also altered my view of myself, already an aspiring computer scientist. I realized that I want to pursue research in an area that will benefit society, and that I do not want to be ‘hidden’! Your book inspired me to challenge myself with a science project in computer science applied to renewable energy, which will help me achieve my goal of contributing toward another crucial race for America: the race for energy independence.

Hidden Figuresbroadened my view of the world by giving me a greater appreciation for the mathematicians’ ability to overcome oppression. Reading about their impact on the future of NASA increased my awareness of how scientific progress is made. One passage that left an impression on me describes how the female scientists were confined to segregated cafeterias and forced to face the degrading ‘Colored Only’ signs every afternoon. Miriam Mann took a stand to receive the same treatment as all her coworkers, as she would “remove the sign and banish it to the recesses of her purse, her small act of defiance inspiring both anxiety and a sense of empowerment.” I imagined myself simmering with rage in her situation, contributing to an important project while encountering an incessant reminder that people perceive me as inferior. When a boy taunted me in my computer science summer camp for being the only girl, I mustered all my courage to stand up to him. Miriam risked her job to assert her human dignity, causing me to respect the courage of all the female mathematicians who overcame oppression to pursue their ambitions. Your book not only gave me an appreciation of the female mathematicians themselves, but also deepened my understanding of how scientific progress is made and documented. Although “for many men, a computer was…and appliance that inhaled one set of figures and exhaled another,” the computers were human females who made meticulous calculations that were integral to the flight and space program. When I first read about the space program, I learned mainly about the astronauts and engineers who design the rockets and embarked on monumental journeys. After reading your book, I realized that the female computations were vital to analyzing test data and developing functional rockets. Hidden Figures opened my eyes to how our perception of history depends on who narrates the story, galvanizing me to wonder who else might be hidden in the stories of other breakthroughs.

Your book changed my view of myself by motivating me to pursue a science project in computer science with applications for wind power. When you said that “once you took the first step, anything was possible,” I felt prompted to take the first step towards exploring my interests in renewable energy. The mathematicians took their first steps by applying for a computing job during World War II, and later helped propel the space program to success. Their tenacity and conscientiousness resonated with me, and I was awed by how their hard work catapulted them to the forefront of the space program. However, your book also made me realize that I do not desire to be a hidden figure. The female scientists created a colossal contribution to NASA, but very few people appreciate their endeavors. I aspire to conduct research that contributes to society, and reading your book motivated me to emerge from hiding in the scientific field. I decided to apply my interest in computer science to help solve the global energy crisis. My science project uses computer science to increase wind power feasibility by predicting wind turbine power output. Accurate energy predictions save power plants energy and money by allowing them to meet consumer demand, helping integrate wind energy into the power grid. I believe that my project could help reduce pollution by enabling a feasible alternative to fossil fuels. Your book empowered me to take action in the field by boosting me on the path towards achieving my career goals of contributing toward America’s independence from fossil fuels.

Thanks to you, I gained a greater knowledge of the world and my identity. Hidden Figures illuminated the prejudice females and African Americans face, led me to see the true catalysts of scientific progress, and helped inspire me to pursue a career in computer science. Thank you for writing this beautiful book that changed my life and opened my mind to new possibilities.

Sincerely,

Sofia Tomov

2017