Dr. Ellen Stofan, a former chief scientist at NASA, helped demolish barriers for women in science while working at the space agency, and now she is coming to Hamilton as part of the city’s One City One Book initiative, which is a city-wide program that promotes the shared experience of reading the same book.
Stofan will give a talk Oct. 17 on the Miami Hamilton campus to discuss the need for greater diversity in the STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — fields.
Her talk is in partnership with One City One Book. The book chosen for the inaugural initiative is “Hidden Figures,” which tells the true story of black female mathematicians at NASA whose calculations helped fuel some of America’s greatest achievements in space. The book was recently made into a movie that was nominated for three Academy Awards.
Stofan spoke with the Journal-News this week and said she holds the women who were the subject of the book, written by Margot Lee Shetterly, in high regard.
“My father worked for NASA in Cleveland and when I was growing up I looked at the people he worked with and thought there were only men working there,” Stofan said. “But at some point, my father told me that at NASA, there were these women working there called computers that did all of our math for us. At the point I hated math, and I thought ‘how does that work?’ ”
Stofan said she was inspired to look at biographies of famous women involved in science like the women in “Hidden Figures,” which helped her stay the course and become a renowned scientist.
“Unless you see people who look like you, you don’t think, ‘that would be a thing for me,’ ” she said. “It was critical for me to see other women that have contributed to these extremely fundamental successes of this country and it is time to tell these stories. That is why I think that Margot Lee Shetterly is an amazing woman in her own right.”
Getting more women involved in STEM fields is not going to be easy, but Stofan feels that it can happen.
“ It really is just a pipeline issue. We know it’s a pipeline issue because girls lose interest in STEM studies in middle school,” she said.
Stofan said that the loss of interest involves peer pressure, lack of encouragement from families and teachers.
“It never has to do with ability — it has to do with culture and environment,” Stofan said.
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