Hidden Figures, a book by Margot Shetterly and now a major motion picture, tells the story of the African-American women that were a crucial part of NASA during the Space Race. It also serves as the novel that all freshmen taking Composition I will read this semester. In fact, several members of the faculty have been posting their reactions to Hidden Figures on this site. Dr. Alison Witte has taken her own approach, giving students in her sections of Comp I the chance to get in touch with some of Trine’s very own “hidden figures,” bringing them to light in a final project that will span much of the semester.
Dr. Witte’s project is split into a few different parts, but the premise is simple. After reaching out to several female engineering alumnae of Trine University, a few students from her sections of Comp I will interview them. These engineering alumnae all graduated prior to the year 1980, and the biographical interviews will be conducted with the intent of making a “museum exhibit” based on the work that they have done. In addition to the interviews, students will also do archival research, either directed by information from the interview or items of interest that they find independently. This information could be photos or articles, and the end goal is that the students in these courses come to realize how much these women have contributed to engineering history.
The project is open-ended, and in the end, the students have to explore. “When they’re doing archival research, I can’t tell them what they’re going to find, because I don’t know. An archive is just a box full of boxes… I’m not sure what they’re going to find,” said Dr. Witte.
The students will develop interview questions (with Dr. Witte’s assistance), and the interviews will go forward in October. The women set to be interviewed themselves are perhaps most excited of all, said Dr. Witte. “They are looking forward to being able to tell their stories… I want our students to get a chance to realize how much Trine has been involved in engineering history. I want them to see what these people have done, where they worked, and I want them to realize that we’ve had female engineering students since the 1940s.”
The museum project itself will be a mini-biographical exhibit for each woman interviewed, though beyond that, much is left up to the students. The exhibits are intended to be public, though the venue is yet to be chosen as the displays themselves are still being determined. Dr. Witte’s current intention is for the exhibits to be displayed and available for viewing to the public from the December 5, opening in the afternoon and remaining up until finals week.
In addition to the project itself, Dr. Witte will also be conducting a Humanities Symposium on the subject November 14, hopefully assisted by some of the students and women involved.