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WVU engineering school to host ‘Girls’ STEM Day’ next month

Framed as such, it could have been the premise of a science-fiction novel.

The day Katherine Johnson and Anna Brusoe constructed a time-bridge, that is.

Anna, we’ll get to.

Johnson, meanwhile, was the famed “Hidden Figures” mathematician from West Virginia who computed the launch and splashdown trajectories for the Apollo 11 moon mission.

Before that, according to NASA lore, she had garnered unconditional faith from no less than John Glenn, who wasn’t about to slip the surly bonds of Earth for his Mercury mission — until Johnson assured him that, yes, the numbers did indeed check out A-OK.

WVU’s Society of Women Engineers is hoping to capture a bit of that lofty magic next month when it hosts “Girls’ STEM Day 2023” at the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources.

“Tools for your Future” is the theme of the event, which is Feb. 25 at the college.

It didn’t take long to reach capacity, organizers said, with 200 girls from across the region, in grades K-5, expected to attend.

The goal is to get them interested in careers built around science, technology, engineering and math, organizers said.

For those whose interest has already been sparked, the day’s motivation will be to foster and encourage that inclination even more — with a day-long array of fun exercises and interactive activities.

The engineering society is known for such outreach: Past get-togethers have included coding exercises and gridded layouts featuring hydraulic bridges and scurrying robots.

Its signature biomedical engineering station, complete with prosthetic hands, is a crowd-pleaser.

There were sizable crowds on a sunny June day in 2019 at a high-tech facility in South Fairmont, where the aforementioned time-bridge came to be.

NASA was renaming its computer software validation facility in honor of Johnson, who was just past her 100th birthday and enjoying STEM-stardom, courtesy of the “Hidden Figures” book and movie of the same name.

The Fairmont facility was created after the Challenger space shuttle disaster as one more layer of assurance in a dangerous pursuit.

NASA officials thought the new name fitting for a woman whose quiet manner masked a fierce tenacity.

Johnson may have been a math prodigy, but she was also born Black and female in Greenbrier County in 1918. She had to conquer the gravity of Jim Crow, not to mention the prevailing sexism of the day, to reach her eventual cruising altitude at NASA.

Anna hung back so she could say hello to Joylette Hylick, one of Johnson’s daughters attending in her stead.

The home-school student from Morgantown was then 14, the same age as Johnson when she enrolled as a freshman at an all-Black college, having graduated high school early.

Johnson is a role model for Anna, who has since written and illustrated a children’s book on women STEM pioneers that has been distributed across Appalachia, in Detroit public schools and elsewhere, through the Girl Scouts of America.

“Your mom’s amazing,” she said, shaking Hylick’s hand.

“Well, I’m going to tell her all about you,” Katherine Johnson’s daughter said.

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