Hidden Figures Honored in Congress

Photo of Andrea Williams taken by Samantha Isom.

Editor’s note: Andrea R. Williams works at the American Mathematical Society as an Assistant to the Associate Executive Director in the Office of Government Relations. New to the field of mathematics and all that it encompasses, Andrea is a citizen scientist who teaches scuba diving and loves to volunteer dive with the Coral Restoration Foundation.

[All photos in the body of this piece are taken by Andrea.]

In January of 2017, I saw the film Hidden Figures, based on the book by author Margot Lee Shetterly. The film and book feature the lives and contributions of Dr. Christine Darden, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, African-American women who worked in the computer pool at Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory. These women, amongst other African American women at Langley, contributed to the success of NASA’s space program.

Andrea with Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson

Fast forward to 9 December 2019, a reception at the US Capitol. Senators, Congresswomen/men, Hidden Figure Dr. Christine Darden, and others waiting to witness the honoring of these Hidden Figures and their families. A month earlier on 8 November 2019, the president signed into law the Hidden Figures Law Act initiated by Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX-30) and Senator Chris Coons (D-DE). Both were present as well as the Sloan Foundation to honor Dr. Christine Darden, who was also present to receive her Congressional Gold Medal.

Before the presentation began, I had the great fortune to listen in on Dr. Christine Darden’s conversation with a group of high school girls in attendance – all young women interested in the sciences! The students shared their awe to meet Dr. Darden and how they were inspired by the Hidden Figures story. I had an opportunity to speak with Dr. Darden as well; I tried not to fan out! Turns out her daughter is an alumna of Spelman College, as am I!

Congressional members with Margot Lee Shetterly and Dr. Christine Darden

This experience reinvigorated my love for science and has inspired me to further advocate to work with and advocate for our youth, and for the need for interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics at every academic level and beyond. I am grateful to have met a living legend and to hear her speak to her experience as a Hidden Figure.

About Karen Saxe

Karen Saxe is Director of the AMS Office of Government Relations which works to connect the mathematics community with Washington decision-makers who affect mathematics research and education. Over many years she has contributed much time to the AMS, MAA, and AWM, including service as vice president of the MAA and in policy and advocacy work with all three. She was the 2013-2014 AMS Congressional Fellow, working for Senator Al Franken on education issues, with focus on higher education and STEM education. In Minnesota she has served on the Citizens Redistricting Commission following the 2010 census and serves on the Common Cause Minnesota Redistricting Leadership Circle. She has three children and, when not at work especially enjoys being with them and reading, hiking and sharing good food and wine and beer with family and friends.
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