Hidden Figures, a best-selling read by Margot Lee Shetterly and an Oscar-nominated film, is changing how we understand the history of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Often, the stories of scientific discoveries and engineering feats omit the contributions of women or people of color and obscure the knowledge and experiences, both lay and professional, required to achieve STEM accomplishments. The usual discourse of STEM deemphasizes the social-historical context that creates the conditions for innovation of personnel (the who), process (the how), and product (the what).
Shetterly provides an alternative narrative as she shines a light on the people, places, and purpose of STEM. She features African-American women in her historical storytelling of the US Space Race and the Civil Rights Movement. Her personal and professional stories of women, like Kathryn Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson exemplify African-American women at work in NASA as mathematicians, computer scientists, and engineers. These women fully participate in the practices of STEM as they perform computational analysis, program mainframe computers, and conduct engineering tests. She explains how war, racial segregation, and sexism at home and in the workplace limited how African-American women participated in STEM and conversely, created a window of opportunity that amplified their contributions to STEM, in particular the rise of US Space Program.