NASA engineer hopes to inspire a new generation of women - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

NASA engineer hopes to inspire a new generation of women

Shaw says she was led to her profession by a love of math. (Photo source: WLOX) Shaw says she was led to her profession by a love of math. (Photo source: WLOX)
HANCOCK COUNTY, MS (WLOX) -

Testing rocket engines is one of the big missions carried out in Hancock County.

Out of the many people who work to make sure missions at NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center happen, it's Kamili Shaw's job to make sure they are safe. The Safety, Quality, and Management Systems Division Lead credits a love she discovered at a young age for her success. 

"How I got to this point is basically I love math," said Shaw. "I became an engineer..went on to get my masters, then came to work at NASA."

Although women make up nearly 50 percent of the United States workforce, only around 24 percent work in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields.

That's why when Hidden Figures hit the big screen at theaters across the nation On Jan. 6, many people where surprised to learn about the team of African American women who provided NASA with key mathematical data in the 60's.

Much like the lead women in the movie - Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson - Kamili has been outnumbered by men for most of her career. However, she says she quickly learned how to make her voice heard. 

"We have to learn to speak up - even if we have to repeat ourselves - to make sure our ideas are on the table," said Shaw. "Because at the end of the day, it's important that all of us - all of our ideas - are considered to come out with the best product that we're trying to do."

The team of women in the segregated area of NASA known as the West Area Computers Division played an instrumental role in space exploration. 

"They made it possible for us to get to space and to do orbital flight," said outgoing NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. 

The movie shines the spotlight on women like Kamili, who are behind the scenes of space missions.

"With this movie and book coming out, really focusing on how different people contribute, I think that makes people who may not be represented as fully feel more comfortable in their positions," said Shaw. "Also, new people coming in maybe more interested knowing that these women existed."

Katherine Johnson, whose calculations were the key to astronaut John Glenn's successful Earth orbit, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom In 2015. Her example of persistence is something Kamili will continue to live by.

"That just inspired me to make sure that I'm offering my talents, and continuing to make sure that they're used to benefit NASA and ultimately the country," said Shaw. 

Kamili hopes the movie will inspire a new generation of girls to get involved in STEM programs and, like her, learn to love math.

"We want girls and women to code because they're going to think about things that men are just not going to think about," said Shaw. 

The women of Hidden Figures wanted to expand horizons. Fifty years later, the mission remains the same for both NASA and Kamili.

"The reason why people stay at NASA, the reason why I stay at NASA, is because of the mission. It's so big, it's so broad, and it's so imaginative that we're trying to explore the Universe," Shaw said.  

Click here to watch the full interview with Kamili.

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