Author of the bestselling book “Hidden Figures,” and a former NASA scientist recently spoke at the University of Utah.
Author Margot Lee Shetterly was raised in Hampton, Virginia by an English professor and a NASA scientist. She was surrounded by many NASA employees while growing up, including Mary Jackson and Katherine Johnson, women who helped put a man on the moon. Because of this, Shetterly said she grew up believing all women and people of color could be scientists or engineers or mathematicians.
“Once I moved away from home,” Shetterly said, “I realized that my experience wasn’t the norm for other places or for other times. And I knew that it hadn’t been the norm for my father.”
These experiences inspired Shetterly’s book “Hidden Figures.” In a recent visit to Utah, she spoke about writing the book and the importance of diversity in innovation with Ellen Stofan, a former NASA chief scientist.
“As the story of Hidden Figures amply showed,” Stofan said, “we’ve only ever accomplished these things by having everybody involved. If you’re only tapping on a small segment of your population to solve climate change, to get John Glenn into space, to get humans to Mars, you’re not going to get there. We never have and we never will.”
Stofan said it is important to seek diversity for the right reasons.
“This isn’t about, ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be nice if we had nice numbers of everybody?’” Stofan said. “It’s not diversity for diversity’s sake. It’s diversity and inclusion so that we can achieve the technological challenges that lay in front of us.”
While visiting Utah, the women also spoke to students at Mary Jackson Elementary in Salt Lake City, which was recently renamed to honor one of the mathematicians in Shetterly’s book.