Nathalia Holt, Ph.D., biologist and science writer, kicked off this year’s senior seminar theme on Breaking Barriers and Biases by addressing students on Wednesday, September 6 in the Marian University Theatre. Holt is the New York Times bestselling author of Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us from Missiles to the Moon to Mars (Little, Brown, 2016) and Cured: The People who Defeated HIV (Penguin Random House, 2014).
Did you know that the first ‘computers’ were actually women who did computing (calculations)? You probably thought the first computer was a large machine that filled an entire room! During her talk, Holt shared pictures and stories from her visit to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) archives and personal conversations with the ‘computers.’
In her book, she brings the forgotten history of women’s contributions to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the beginnings of NASA into the spotlight. The information Holt was able to gather during her research was superbly assembled to focus on the positive impact these women had on the advancement of space exploration while subtly touching on the gender bias and discrimination these women endured throughout their careers. Holt’s Rise of the Rocket Girls provides the ‘computers’ with the recognition and acknowledgement they deserve.
The General Education Committee and senior seminar faculty at Marian University selected Rise of the Rocket Girls as the common reader for all seniors in the class of 2018. Holt has primed the students and faculty to openly discuss gender bias and sexual discrimination with facts, respect, and honesty. As we send these students out into the world, we hope that discussions they will have this semester will help prepare them to lead tough conversations addressing inequality and provide them with the courage to develop solutions that uphold our Franciscan values.