The West Virginia University Campus Read for the 2017-2018 academic year will be Hidden Figures: The Story of the African American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race.
Written by Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures was made into a film released late last year. Both the book and the movie tell the extraordinary—and until now untold—story of the historical moment when the National Aeronautical and Space Administration first hired women as mathematicians and data analysts. The sweeping narrative is made personal through the focus throughout on three specific women of color: Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson.
Provost Joyce McConnell, whose office currently oversees the Campus Read with extensive input from a campus-wide community of reader-nominators, said that “in the end, this was an easy—and exciting—choice. This book tells a fascinating story that reshapes our understanding of our national history. For all of us at West Virginia University, however, it also touches close to home.”
Two of the central characters in Hidden Figures lived or went to school in West Virginia. Johnson—now 98 years old—was born in 1918 in White Sulphur Springs, Greenbrier County. She graduated from high school at 14 and later became the first African American to attend graduate school at WVU.
Though Johnson did not complete her graduate program in math, she went on to a tremendously successful career with NASA. In May of 2016, she was awarded a Presidential Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from WVU for “attaining national and international preeminence in the field of astrophysics and providing distinguished leadership and service in her field.”
Dorothy Vaughn was born in 1910 in Kansas City, Missouri but moved to Morgantown as a teenager and graduated from Beechurst High School in 1925. (The school itself no longer exists.)
Since McConnell revived the WVU Campus Read, students, faculty, staff and members of the community (including many alumni and parents of current students) have read World War Z by Max Brooks (2015-2016) and Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (2016-2017). Both authors visited campus as Festival of Ideas speakers and both books were incorporated into classroom discussions and other campus events throughout the academic year. The Office of the Provost, working with the University Libraries, the Office of Undergraduate Education and numerous other units across campus, already has plans in the works to make sure Hidden Figures has an even greater campus-wide impact and appeal.
Campus Read Screening Committee Chair Susan Lantz says that, “This is the right book for our campus at the right time. The women of Hidden Figures exemplified the foundational characteristics of this university—they went first into a field that had been closed to them, and they triumphed. We are looking forward to the rich and varied ways that we will find to engage with this book.”
There is plenty of evidence to suggest already that this thought-provoking narrative will be a conversation starter on campus. Inspired by Johnson’s story, civil engineering major Morgan King and exercise physiology major Savannah Lusk created a lasting tribute to her on campus. The two Honors College students recently presided over the dedication of the Katherine Johnson Conference Room in the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources.
Both students cited the Hidden Figures “rocket girls” story as an inspiring example of women succeeding in the sciences despite prejudice and discrimination.
Copies of Hidden Figures are already available at the WVU Bookstore. The book will be promoted at New Student Orientation and during Welcome Week and will be a part of the curriculum for all Freshman 191 courses. The Campus Read Committee is currently planning a robust schedule of related events, many of them open to the public, to occur throughout the 2017-2018 academic year.
CONTACT: Susan Lantz; Chair, WVU
Campus Read Committee and Director, Business Learning Resource Center, College
of Business and Economics
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