Hidden Figures Revealed: Passion, Strength, and Perseverance


In celebration of Women’s History Month, LSU’s College of Science and College of Engineering hosted Hidden Figures Revealed on Friday, March 17. This day-long event included Dr. Michelle Clayton, deputy superintendent of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Systemoutreach to high school students, a screening of the Hidden Figures movie, and a panel discussion.

The movie Hidden Figures recounts the vital history of an elite team of African-American female mathematicians at NASA who helped win the all-out space race against the Soviet Union, and at the same time, sent the quest for equal rights and opportunity rocketing forwards.

During the first portion of the day, the film was shown to more than 400 high school girls from Arlington Preparatory Academy, Broadmoor High School, Friendship Capitol High School, Lee Magnet High School, LSU Laboratory School, Southern University Laboratory School, St. Joseph’s Academy, East Iberville High School, STEM Magnet Academy of Pointe Coupee, St. Helena College, and Career Academy and Port Allen High School. The students participated in breakout groups with a combination of undergraduates, faculty and staff members to discuss the opportunities at LSU and what it’s like to be a girl interested in science.

Jada Lewis, Assistant Dean for Diversity in the LSU College of Engineering, wanted to ensure that the event was impactful for students and included a mentoring component with professional engineers and scientists. The breakout session leaders included: Benita Zazueta, LaToya Bullard, Dr. Kamili Shaw, Dr. Tabetha Boyajian, Dr. Theda Daniels-Race, Nicole Linear, Dr. Gia Tyson, Dr. Patricia Persaud, Dr. Karen Crosby, Nikki Button, Kara Terrell, and Dr. Nanette Kelly.

Zakiya Wilson-Kennedy, Assistant Dean for Diversity in the LSU College of Science, said the event planners wanted to engage kindergarten through high school students.

“It snowballed by having a different team of individuals who have passion about outreach and LSU,” Wilson-Kennedy said. “[We] really wanted to show the opportunities within the University and what women in science and engineering can do.”Katherine Michele Sanders, STEM teacher, Saint Peter Claver Catholic School, and granddaughter of Dr. Katherine Johnson, NASA research mathematician featured in Hidden Figures movie

Later that afternoon, more than 800 individuals arrived at the LSU Union Theater to view the film and listen to six notable women scientists, engineers, educators and advocates share their experiences, obstacles and successes on their paths to realizing their dreams.

The panel was led by Wilson-Kennedy and included: Latoya Bullard-Franklin, Karen Crosby, Katherine Michele Sanders, Michelle Clayton, Cynthia B. Peterson and Judy Wornat.

Among the panelists, Sanders, a STEM teacher at Saint Peter Catholic School and the granddaughter of Katherine Johnson, one of the NASA research mathematicians featured in the film, said her grandmother, who turned 99 years old this past summer, was excited about the impact the film is having on the nation, especially for children.

An attendee, Cheryl Rami, has two daughters who attend Zachary High School and she said allowing her children to view this film was instrumental to their growth as women.

“They need these role models,” Rami said. “I want them to realize that is not just the person in the front that is important, but you could be in the back and still make a big difference in the world.”

Peterson, Dean of the College of Science, said having these role models on screen are examples of how if an individual has passion and perseverance, they can do anything.

Each panelist agreed perseverance is key to any individual’s success.Hidden Figures panelists: Dean Judy Wornat, Katherine Michele Sanders, Dean Cynthia Peterson, Dr. Zakiya Wilson-Kennedy, Dr. Karen Crosby, Dr. Michelle Clayton, Latoya Bullard-Franklin

“The reason why we know anything about these three women today is because they were so good at what they did,” Wornat, Dean of the College of Engineering, said. “Despite the obstacles society put in their way, they were so exceptional.”

Bullard-Franklin, LSU mechanical engineering alumna and founder of the Bulsard Group, emphasized one thing many people take for granted.

“Knowledge is power,” Bullard-Franklin said. “You hear it all the time, but it is true. When you have knowledge, nobody can take that away from you.”

The panel discussion concluded with a question from a 10-year-old girl who wanted advice on discovering her own path and pursing a business.

“The best thing you can do right now is apply yourself fully and whole-heartily to the schoolwork that you are involved in,” Wornat said.

She said students applying themselves in not only math and science, but in all subjects, will have more options later on in life.

“You don’t have to decide tomorrow if you are going to be a doctor, astronaut or English teacher,” Wornat said. “But if you work really hard in school, then as the years go on, you will have more options available.”

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Raven Nichols, communications intern, LSU College of Engineering

To view a livestream of the event, visit https://www.facebook.com/lsuscience/videos/1234535459928296/