“Hidden Figures” scientist Christine Darden encourages STEM Education
- February 20, 2017
- Posted by: steamc12_wp
- Category: Ed Tech News
Darden, who worked at NASA for 40 years, was not portrayed in the movie “Hidden Figures,” but knew the lead characters: Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson — African American female mathematicians who aided NASA during the early years of the space program. The movie was nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars and has made over $100 million in sales. Darden said the movie has been instrumental in advocating STEM education. She’s seen the movie 10 times.
“Schools all over the country have been using it to encourage students,” Darden said. “They always come up and say how inspiring the movie is. We’ll see if that would be something that would actually keep them taking those math and science courses, which is really what we’re preaching.”
She graduated from Hampton University with a B.S. in Mathematics, arriving at NASA in 1967. She initially worked as a “human computer,” writing complex programs to simplify numbers for engineers at NASA’s Langley Research Center. She received her master’s degree from Virginia State College that same year.
But Darden wanted more than to just crunch numbers.
Upon request, she was transferred to the engineering department, a rare opportunity at time, and eventually went on to become an expert in sonic boom technology. Darden earned a doctorate in mechanical engineering in 1983 from George Washington University and in 1989 led the Sonic Boom Group that tested the effects of sonic booms.
An elder in the Presbyterian church, she said family and faith helped shape her career.
“Our church teaches us we are priests on the job so how we work with people on the job is part of our faith.”
Since the movie, Darden has had various speaking engagements. STEM she said may be the difference between having a job or being unemployed.
“I always tell students more of our jobs are requiring some sort of technical background or the ability to adjust to some sort of technology. I remember a secretary at work who quit when we went from a typewriter because she wouldn’t learn to work on a computer. If you have the math and science in your background … you’re just helping yourself with options if you happen to get laid off.”