Women in STEM inspires with Hidden Figures and an astronaut-to-be

  • What a fantastic evening it was at Paradise Cinema, Vision City. Thanks to PNG WiSTEM (which stands for Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) we were invited to watch the first screening of Hidden Figures – an incredible untold story of three African-American women working at NASA, who served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit.

    The movie itself is entertaining and inspirational.  What was even more inspirational was to hear a personal message by NASA speaker Dr Mamta Patel Nagaraja, an astronaut to-be, before the movie was screened.

    In short, PNG WiSTEM endeavours to promote PNG women and girls pursuing careers in STEM fields. It has a global vision recognizing that women, despite being under-represented, can still be a key element to greater economic success given the right fostering attitude and supporting environment.

    Dr Mamta in her message told the audience that she admired her elder sister who played a significant part in her interest in the skies. Briefly describing her early years with her sister, Dr Mamta said:

    “…I was the little sister I admired her so much I wanted to be like her so I thought that would be really fun. So these are the small things I did as an young girl that eventually led me to being an inspiration. Working for NASA is very exciting.”

    Dr Mamta reminded the audience based on her experience that “we have this mission  to explore and to push the boundaries and then bring that learning back to the people and I think that’s really special and really exciting”.

    The astronaut-to-be said she enjoyed speaking with groups like WiSTEM because it allows her to share her experience and brings her back to “why she does it”.

    One of the coolest parts of her career, she says, is the opportunity to interview people who want to become astronauts because according to her it’s not a common invitation or opportunity. Her first interview opportunity came in 2013. She’s been given a second chance to interview in 2017 and sure enough this is certainly an exciting and incredible time for her personally.

    She added:

    “I can’t believe I’ve been given that opportunity. I know that one the key pieces of how NASA achieves its goals is to have a diverse group of people on their team. And when I say diverse I mean to say diverse in thought as well as for both men and women and this is critical because when you in Papua New Guinea grew up verses how I grew up in the US verses my parents who grew up in India we all have different resources and approach problems differently. When we put this together we are a very powerful team and that’s really how we approach the top problems like sending humans to the moon or eventually sending people to Mars that is exciting but a daunting task. And I think one of the ways we achieve that (is) by forming teams of different types of people and am happy to say am one of those people who made it to NASA and that’s an exciting thing.”

    Dr Mamta is an American engineer. She has degrees in aerospace engineering, mechanical engineering and biomedical engineering. She has trained astronauts and operated as one of NASA’s certified flight controllers for the communications system of their Mission Control Center.

    Dr Mamta is one of five children. Her parents immigrated from India to the United States. She grew up in a small town in West Texas while her parents in Indian grew up in a rural area of India.

    Her parents lived in poverty and had a difficult life in India which is why they decided to immigrate for a better life.

    One of the things Dr Mamata emphasized was the advice from her parents. Her father often told the children: “If there’s one thing we didn’t get in India it was the opportunity to learn”.

    She continued:

    “One thing I’ve always remembered about my dad was my dad’s advice as we were growing up – “There’s one thing nobody can take from you and that’s your education” and I’ve always kept that in the back of my mind cause I think it’s true, it is that one thing that I have and I’ll always treasure that and it has been my opportunity and ability to learn. I don’t think education doesn’t stop once you graduate from university, I mean it continues, you’ll always have the opportunity to learn”.

    If there’s a movie that’s worth watching to inspire and make you determined to succeed both in your career aspirations and life, Hidden Figures is highly recommended. It is screening now at Paradise Cinema.

    Thank you to PNG WiSTEM and Paradise Cinemas for a fantastic night.

    Dr Mamta’s finals words:

    “Whether it’s in school or it’s outside of school I’ll always remember those words my dad used to say as we were growing up. It’s an exciting thing that they now can see were each of their five children have gone with the opportunities they gave us and sacrifices they made. It’s the two people that came from nothing and gave five kids everything and the next generation had more than they had.”


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