‘Hidden Figures’ Inspires Female STEM Students

Photo courtesy Katelyn Biesiadecki Katelyn Biesiadecki, Taleen Sarkissian, Hannah Chew and Charlotte Strasburg were among the 50 LCHS students who attended a special screening of “Hidden Figures” last week at USC.
Photo courtesy Katelyn Biesiadecki
Katelyn Biesiadecki, Taleen Sarkissian, Hannah Chew and Charlotte Strasburg were among the 50 LCHS students who attended a special screening of “Hidden Figures” last week at USC.

Last week, about 10,000 public high school students from throughout L.A. County — including 50 from La Cañada High School — filled USC’s Galen Center for a history lesson unlike any they’ve ever had before.
They were invited by the L.A. Promise Fund, a nonprofit focused on preparing L.A. students for the future, for a mass screening of “Hidden Figures.”
And almost the entire audience, gathered to watch the movie about African-American women who helped NASA achieve some of its greatest achievements, was female.
“It was like watching a football game,” said Gayle Nichols-Ali, a computer science and visual arts teacher at LCHS. “Your team won every time the girls won.”
“When there were significant moments, everyone was going crazy, applauding and shouting and so excited to be together,” LCHS senior Taleen Sarkissian said. “I felt empowered, like I wanted to do something.”
Sarkissian has already done something to encourage her female peers’ interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, founding LCHS’ Girls Who Code club with Katelyn Biesiadecki. Together, they were recognized last year with the National Center of Women and Information Technology’s Affiliate Award. The club has grown to include 15 young women.
“It feels good to know that even though we’re only in high school, we still can do something to get more women involved in STEM,” said Biesiadecki, who is hopeful the movie also will inspire more girls to explore those fields.
It has, already, inspired attendance. It has topped the box office charts for two consecutive weeks, earning $60.4 million since its release, and gaining steady Oscar buzz as it has alerted its audiences to the previously unheralded accomplishments of three brilliant women.
“I never heard about this story,” said Nichols-Ali, who is black. “I even questioned it after the movie — did that really happen? It’s absolutely insane. They were burdened by being African-American, but the burden of being a woman in a science field and not being valued is, to me, at the core of the movie.”
Sarkissian said that though the film is set in the early 1960s, she recognized some of the dismissive attitudes portrayed on-screen.
“It’s still going on,” she said. “Boys will do the math and science and girls make the posters. Guys will do the experiment and girls will write down the data. Watching the movie made me realize it shouldn’t be that way, and it’s becoming known now that girls can do just as much as guys.”
The thousands who arrived to watch the film together last week were treated to a surprise question-and-answer session from the film’s stars, Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae, which was as motivating as the movie, Sarkissian said.
“Hearing the words before was inspiring and watching the movie tied it together and made me realize anything is possible,” she said.

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