By: Guest Blogger
Editor’s Note: On Jan. 21, Superintendent Paolo DeMaria hosted a screening and panel discussion of the movie “Hidden Figures.” The event explored what we can do to continue to engage and inspire young people—especially women of color—to explore STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers. The Department collaborated with Battelle, COSI, The Ohio State University, Columbus State and Wilberforce University on the event. In honor of Black History Month, we invited Donnie Perkins to expand on the insights he provided at the event for this blog post.
Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson and numerous other colleagues, known as the “West Area Computers,” are finally receiving their due from another African-American woman, Margot Shetterly, in her book and Oscar-nominated movie “Hidden Figures.” President Barack Obama also recognized Katherine Johnson, a physicist, scientist and mathematician, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 for her service to NASA.
As a native of North Carolina during the Jim Crow era, I know firsthand the impact of racism, including the sting of colored and white schools, bathrooms and water fountains. Despite legalized segregation, pernicious racism, sexism and blatant hate throughout society, the West Area Computers—these “Sheros”—made major contributions to NASA and the space program. We stand on their shoulders!
I applaud the faith, dignity, courage, tenacity and academic and engineering excellence of the named and unnamed West Area Computers. They demonstrated the long-held African-American adage: “You have to work three times as hard to get half as far as the white man and still you will have miles to go.” Johnson, Vaughan, Jackson and their co-workers are true role models for ambitious women of all races and backgrounds today.
Shetterly’s book and movie raised several questions for me. Why has this true story remained hidden for so long? Why wasn’t this set of facts included in my history, science, math or engineering curriculum and textbooks throughout my educational experience? Are there more “unsung heroes” that we do not know about? Students should ask these questions every day, and teachers and faculty should be prepared to respond in the affirmative.
This true story offers insights on two levels—opportunity loss and the strength of diversity. Continued segregation and discrimination rob our society of great talent, innovation and leadership in engineering. It also demonstrates that intellect and talent are not vested in one group or another, that diverse teams, despite rampantly inequality, can achieve great things that benefit all citizens of our nation and the world. Just imagine what we could do when the nation decides to value and leverage our differences and similarities in pursuit of equality and justice for all and the American dream.
Our country and the world need more talented engineers. African Americans, Hispanic/Latinos, Native Americans and other underrepresented citizens—female and male—are a ready source. I offer a call to action:
Encourage women and diverse students to ask questions, particularly about the history of their ancestors’ contributions to American engineering, science, technology, innovation and culture.
Encourage teachers and faculty to research and include the contributions and innovations of women and diverse citizens in their curriculum and textbooks at each level of our education system.
Set high academic expectations for all students and support their efforts to achieve excellence.
Promote greater awareness of the engineering profession with increased collaboration between K-12 schools and colleges of engineering.
The truth cannot be hidden; excellence always rises to top. Diversity and inclusion drive excellence!
Donnie Perkins is chief diversity officer for the College of Engineering at The Ohio State University, where he leads college-wide initiatives that advance outcomes and integrate diversity and inclusion into the fabric and culture of the college. You can contact Donnie by clicking here.
Leave a Comment
By: Guest Blogger
Editor’s Note: March is Women’s History Month. In honor of this month, we invited Stephanie Patton to reflect on her experience as an administrator of a public, all-girls school.
The day I received a call with an invitation to lead my district’s all-girl middle school, there was a hint of surprise followed by a little hesitation. An all-girl middle school, I thought to myself, what an interesting concept. Having years of experience teaching and more than a decade of experience as an administrator in dual gender settings, it should be no big deal, right? I have educated girls my whole career.
What I have learned is that there is a difference between providing an education for girls and how girls learn. In a single gender setting, the strengths and weakness of how girls thrive in an educational environment are magnified. I now understand the complexity of a woman begins in the preteen years, followed by adolescence and young adulthood. Some days, to my exhaustion, I learn. Girls want to be heard, girls want to be seen and girls want to be perfect. I want my girls to have a voice, I want my girls to break the glass ceiling while everyone is watching and I want my girls to be brave—not perfect. This is easier said than done. How do you build up a girl to be confident when society lays her foundation as beauty and image through outlets of social media and where self-worth and value are placed on how many likes you get on Instagram?
Creating a nurturing environment that empowers young girls to love the skin they’re in, recognize their own voices and lead by example is what we are striving for in our school. Having a strong advisory program where everyday challenges can be discussed, along with strategies on how to overcome them is central to how we start each day. We also partake in yoga and meditation, so we can self-reflect, focus and de-escalate all of life’s stressors.
As women, we share many key roles that require balance such as wives, mothers, professionals and entrepreneurs. We are strong contributors to the world. If we don’t instill this reality in our youth, we are not doing our job as educators. Now I know the question will be, what about academics? And I say, you should see a classroom where girls are empowered to raise their hands and express their intellect with confidence. What a sight to see where girls are leaders in science, math and technology. You ask my students what careers they are interested in and they will tell you everything from a forensic scientist or marine biologist to an attorney or philanthropist. The difference, I have learned, is that they see power in their futures as females, outside of a male-dominated world. Not as an isolated experience, as a different experience that is made up of equals. The first graduating class of our middle school will be graduating high school this year, and I can’t wait to see what awaits them. Data has shown that they have fared well among their peers in high school—single or dual gender.
As we embark on Women’s History Month, we are focusing on women who are the unsung heroes, women who have made strides and contributions to society with little fanfare. The emphasis is on average, everyday women who are brave, who have a voice and who have made a difference in society. The women they see within themselves.
Stephanie L. Patton is principal of Columbus City Preparatory School for Girls in Columbus City Schools, a school committed to cultivating a challenging and enriching educational environment that encourages every girl to reach her full potential. You can contact Stephanie by clicking here.
Leave a Comment