Economy

The back room of Fante’s Coffee on Grinstead Drive had an international flair on Tuesday morning. Women scientists, engineers, and mathematicians from Israel, Kazakhstan, Italy and more gathered over coffee as part of the program “Hidden No More: Empowering Women Leaders in STEM.

Omowunmi Hassan from Nigeria has run a tech center for women and girls there for the past 14 years. She said STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — offers an opportunity to use intelligence to change your community.

“STEM is not an issue of color,” said Hassan. “STEM is an issue of what you know and what you can give to your community.”

Omowumni HassanRoxanne Scott | wfpl.org

Omowunmi Hassan

Besides working in STEM, the women at the coffee hour had another thing in common: they’ve all seen the film “Hidden Figures.”

The 2016 Academy Award-nominated film highlighted three black women mathematicians at NASA who were instrumental during the U.S. space program in the 1960s. The movie was based on the book “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win The Space Race,” written by Margot Lee Shetterly.

The film earned more than $230 million worldwide and was so popular across the globe that U.S. embassies requested screenings of the film.

And that inspired the State Department to create the Hidden No More exchange program, where nearly 50 women from across the world are visiting the United States this month. The group met in Washington and is traveling in subgroups in different parts of the country.

Thoai Huyen Le was also an attendee at the coffee hour, hosted by the World Affairs Council of Kentucky and Southern Indiana. Le is a scientist in Vietnam and said watching “Hidden Figures” can help women and girls unlock their power.

“I want to open a chance to our female scientists in our country to see this movie,” she said.  

But many countries, including the United States, have a long way to go when it comes to women in STEM. In the U.S. women obtain only 35 percent of their undergraduate degrees in STEM.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national average wage of all STEM occupations was approximately $87,000.

Roxanne Scott covers the economy for WFPL News.