- Associated Press - Monday, February 27, 2017

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Cavana Carey, a senior at Bulkeley High School who wants to be a pediatrician, has fielded doubts and low expectations over what her future holds.

But not Friday. Not in that movie theater, abuzz with the energy of 80 Hartford girls who sat enthralled with the cinematic inspiration from “Hidden Figures,” the Oscar-nominated film based on the real-life heroics of three brilliant African American women who became NASA trailblazers while facing the government-sponsored indignities of Jim Crow segregation.

“I felt it paved a way for me to want to persevere and go for the career that I choose,” Cavana said after the final credits rolled. The 17-year-old plans to tune out the doubters and listen more to people such as her grandmother and sisters, she said, “telling me I can be anything I wish to be in life.”

Schools across the country have been busing students to screenings of “Hidden Figures” in recent weeks to watch the story about overcoming obstacles that educators see as a big dose of hope.

In Hartford, the idea for Friday’s field trip came from Bulkeley Principal Gayle Allen-Greene, who had already seen the movie twice and considered it a motivational portal to tap into interests in science, technology, engineering and mathematics - STEM fields where women, and especially women of color, are still severely underrepresented.

Acting Superintendent Leslie Torres-Rodriguez greeted the girls as they arrived at the New Park Avenue theater from three city schools: Bulkeley, Global Communications Academy and High School, Inc. She gathered them for a pep talk near the concession stands.

“As you think about the movie … think about the fact that you can do anything - anything - as good as and sometimes, and oftentimes, better, better, than men,” Torres-Rodriguez said. “So don’t let anyone tell you that you are not capable, OK? So you’ve got to dig in, find your grit, and be all that you can.”

In “Hidden Figures,” one of the women, NASA mathematician Katherine G. Johnson, was a human computer whose calculations helped launch the first American into orbit during the midcentury space race against the Soviets. She also was credited as one of the brains behind the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, and in 2015, at age 97, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her contributions to space flight.

That legacy, revived on the big screen, was news to the students. The stories of the pioneering black NASA women are missing from their typical history textbooks.

“We shouldn’t have had to come to the movies to find this out,” Allen-Greene told the girls, who had lauded the engineers’ accomplishments with joyful applause. “Hidden Figures” is up for Best Picture at the Academy Awards on Feb. 26.

After the movie, the students remained in their seats to hear from a girl-power panel of STEM role models: black and Latina women in the region who included a UConn cardiologist, a Pratt & Whitney engineer and a Travelers actuary. They encouraged curiosity, analytical thinking and perseverance to overcome the microaggressions of being women of color in male-dominated fields.

Aisha Minteh, 15, a Bulkeley sophomore who felt inspired to be a neurosurgeon after watching “Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story,” said learning about Johnson renewed her determination.

“It made me not want to give up and to strive for greatness,” she said.

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Information from: Hartford Courant, http://www.courant.com

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