Christine Darden, a retired NASA employee who was featured in the “Hidden Figures” book, hopes to teach students more than just rocket science in her talk at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Darden will speak at the Nebraska Union Auditorium on Jan. 25 and at the Nebraska Conference for Undergraduate Women in Mathematics Jan. 26 at Embassy Suites on her experiences in mathematics and overcoming adversity.
Darden’s first talk is part of the campus events for Martin Luther King Jr. week, and will focus on her life experiences and portrayal in “Hidden Figures,” according to Lindsay Augustyn, assistant director and communications coordinator for the center for science, mathematics and computer education.
Darden’s speech will inspire and motivate students of any discipline, Charlie Foster, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs, said.
“I think the big point is that you can fight through to do the things that you want to do. She’s evidence of that,” she said. “She brings a whole bunch of experiences to the table because she wasn’t the common NASA employee.”
Darden’s career and message is also a reflection of Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream, Foster said.
“We are talking about seeking to live the dream that he preached about; her experiences really fit in with that,” she said. “The whole idea that education is supposed to be this space where we learn from each other and grow in our character, she did those things. That’s the call to action that he put out and that she answered.”
NCUWM will hear about Darden’s background in math and aerospace engineering, Augustyn said.
“I don’t know that we’ve ever had someone from NASA come and speak at NCUWM before,” she said. “So I think it brings a new angle to the research that people come and talk about.”
Darden’s success as a woman of color in a male-dominated field is very relevant to the female math majors NCUWM hosts in its community, Augustyn said.
“She had to face a lot of adversity in her career and the whole experience that they talk about in the ‘Hidden Figures’ story,” she said. “For her to be able to be so successful at NASA and achieve all that she did, I think that’s really inspiring for women to hear.”
This year marks the 21st annual NCUWM conference, which will bring in around 250 undergraduate female math students from around the country to share their research and hear from leaders in the field, Augustyn said.
“It’s important to provide support systems and networking opportunities [for women],” she said. “To meet each other and start to build that support system and see that they do have peers in the math field, I think that’s important for women to have.”
Having Darden on campus will remind students, no matter if they are interested in math or not, that they can reach success, Foster said.
“They’ll be able to take from this lesson about being a scientist, an African-American female scientist, that whoever you are you can go and achieve,” she said. “No matter what occupation [you have], you can go and do well.”