ANNOUNCER: Please welcome the new host of the syndicated political show, Matter of Fact, and the founder of Starfish Media Group, award‑winning journalist Soledad O'Brien. [ APPLAUSE ] O'BRIEN: Hey, everybody, welcome. [ APPLAUSE ] I'm Soledad O'Brien, and I'll be leading our session today. And in just a few moments, I'm going to bring out our panelists. Our super session is called, The Power of Hidden Figures; and of course, it has, obviously, a dual meaning. The film itself ‑‑ and you've seen just little bits of it there ‑‑ is very powerful, and in a moment you'll have a chance to meet the film's star and the film's director along with the rest of our panelists. But also, we're going to talk about the power of elevating people whose stories are often hidden: the actual, the tangible effects on young people, the impact on innovation, the critical importance on changing a narrative to bring out those ordinary people who are truly doing extraordinary things.
They're literally changing the world. Their stories deserve to be told, and not just for them. Their stories deserve to be told for us, we deserve to know. And then, of course, we can, generation after generation, build on those stories. These stories are not just historical stories; these are stories that are unfolding now, today. So, I'm going to begin by introducing our panelists. I'll give you a very short intro for each panelist; and then, they'll elaborate for you on what they're working on as we have our conversation. I'll moderate our conversation for the first part, and then I'll open it up to questions for our second part. There's a standing mic right there, and I'll direct you to it when we get to that portion of the conversation. So, we're going to begin with bringing out Kristen Summers. Kristen leads a team that trains, enhances, integrates Watson for public sector systems ‑‑ i.e., the government. And she said she got her passion for science because it was logical, and she loved that.
She says girls need a big variety of role models; they need to be able to see everybody doing what they want to do. So, thank you for joining us, Kristen. It's great to have you, welcome. [ APPLAUSE ] SUMMERS: Thank you. O'BRIEN: Our next panelist is Rashid Ferrod Davis. Has e is the founding principal of P‑Tech in New York City. It stands for Pathways in Technology Early College High School. A little bit later, I'll ask him to explain what that means. He's got more than 20 years of experience working in the New York City Department of Education as a teacher, assistant principal; and most recently, the Principal of Bronx Engineering and Technology Academy. Nice to have you. Thank you for being with us.
[ APPLAUSE ] Our next panelist is Elizabeth Gabler. She's the president of FOX 2000 Pictures, which is a division, of course, of 20th Century Fox. You might have heard of some of the films that she has overseen: Devil Wears Prada, that one; Walking the Line, that one; and of course, now, Hidden Figures. So, congratulations on all the amazing buzz the film's getting. [ APPLAUSE ] GABLER: Thank you. O'BRIEN: Leah Gilliam is the Vice President of Education, Strategy and Innovation at Girls Who Code. In her almost 20 years in the field, she's challenged her lifelong fascination with systems and how things work into a diverse career at the intersection of learning and technology. It's so great to have you, Leah, thanks for being with us. [ APPLAUSE ] Octavia Spencer is an actress. She is obviously celebrated, an Oscar winner, a Golden Globe winner, a SAG winner.
How much time do I have to do her introduction here? You know her… [ CHEERS, APPLAUSE ] …her films, obviously. The Help, Fruitvale Station; and now, Hidden Figures. It's great to have you, Octavia. Thanks for being with us. Ted Melfi is a director, he's a screenwriter, he's a producer. His debut film ‑‑ although he told me he really did many more films before he did his debut film ‑‑ St. Vincent was wildly acclaimed. And now, of course, I read this morning an article that talked about Hidden Figures as an Oscar contender, maybe, so that's a… [ APPLAUSE ] …pretty good way… [ APPLAUSE ] …to kick off your second film. And Lindsay‑Rae McIntyre is the Chief Diversity Officer at IBM, recently returning to the U.S. to serve as the human resources Vice President for business and technical leadership and as IBM's Chief Diversity Officer. So, great to have you as well. And welcome, everybody. [ APPLAUSE ] So I'd like to start with a question that I'm going to have each of you take a stab at answering for me, and then we'll get into individual questions.
There's been tons of buzz about this film; and it's funny, because sometimes when you talk to people about it they'll say, and it's a true story, like they're sort of surprised that they didn't really know that this existed before. Why do you think this story has not been told in a film until now? Who wants to start? MELFI: I'll start. Well, I mean, there's a multitude of reasons, as I'm sure I'll save some of the other answers. But I think it points to the fact that we just don't have parades for mathematicians. We have parades for astronauts and other things, but we don't celebrate math. And that's what CES is about, right, is technology. And so I think Hidden Figures is a parade for technology. And the reason you haven't heard it is because we don't celebrate that or we didn't then, yes.
MCINTYRE: Yes, I agree with you, Ted. And I think that one of the things that's brought up in the film, actually, is the fact that even at NASA, they were hidden figures, too. They were the colored computers. They were kept in a completely separate part of the Langley campus in Virginia. And many people that were even there didn't know about them. And it just took their brilliant and innovative and passionate contribution to the space race to bring them out into the focus of the world. DAVIS: And I think we're just so used to the singular story; and so therefore, when you look at the complexity of the lives of the hidden figures that we see in the movie, that we're not used to having so many voices that have no been heard told at one particular time. SPENCER: Well, I think they've covered most of the reasoning behind it, but the other thing is you have to remember that some of the information they were working on was classified. And also, at that time it's not like women were at the forefront of anything being celebrated, so there was that.
And the arbiters of our history were the press, and they were more concerned with who was going and not how they got there. So, there…I think there's a variety of reasons. But for me, I'm just excited that it is being told, and I'm excited that when Elizabeth got the book proposal from Ted, that she said, yes, this is a story whose time has come to be told. So, thank you, Elizabeth. O'BRIEN: And when you got the script, tell me about that. I mean, what did you…Octavia, what did you think? SPENCER: Oh. [ LAUGHTER ] O'BRIEN: What did you think? What was compelling about it? What made you say, oh, this is what I want to do? SPENCER: Well, it's a strange story, because I was told that I was going to be meeting with [Donna Jallotty] about this movie about three mathematicians who helped get our astronauts to space during the NASA space race. And I thought, well, okay, that definitely has to be fiction, because otherwise we'd know about it.
And I had just done The Help; it wasn't far‑fetched, you know, to have a historical fiction. And before I met with Donna, I think I read the book proposal, because I met with her, talked about it and found out it was true and said, oh, my God, I want to do it. And I don't know which role I want to play, but put me, count me in as you guys start forming your cast. And then I read Ted and Allison's script and was really excited to be a part of it. O'BRIEN: Ted, when we were talking down stairs at the booth ‑‑ which is amazing, if you haven't had a chance to see it ‑‑ you said, like, this is exactly the kind of movie you should never, ever do, right? MELFI: This is everything they tell you not to do. Right? Don't make a movie about math. Don't make a movie about science. Don't make a movie with women. Don't make a movie with black women. And it's having tremendous success, it's bucking all the conventions.
So I think the power of the story, and the fact that people are craving to see other things besides men in spandex… [ LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE ] …is just… [ APPLAUSE ] O'BRIEN: Is it hard to tell, as a director, is it hard to tell the story that's the quiet heroes versus the, you know, often the aggressive heroes are the stories that we see a lot. MELFI: It's hard to tell. The hardest challenge is to make math cinematic, really. You know, math is not cinematic. But no, the challenge was just to dig in to the women's lives. It's, you know, I tried to create them or we all tried, we tried to create them as superheroes, you know, so that when you watch the movie there's some iconic imagery that shows them in angles and frames that look like heroic. So, I think you just try to make them superheroes.
O'BRIEN: There's that amazing scene where your character says, you know, we have been reassigned, right? And it is…it's very emotional, right, because all these women suddenly come around the corner, and it's exactly the astronaut shot ‑‑ the shot where you usually see the astronauts kind of in that V as they march through and you hear them, clunk, clunk. And it's women in skirts, and the clicking of their heels. And it's…I will confess, it brought me to tears because it was so emotional. It's after your character fights for, you know, she's not getting promoted if she's not bringing her team with her. I think it's very emotional. What do you think the impact, Lindsay‑Rae, or what do you hope the impact is beyond a film opening and people see it and enjoy it for the story.
MCINTYRE: I think that we're so privileged to have had IBM's forefathers who hired the first Black employee and three women in 1899; and our first female engineers in the 1930s; and appointed our first female executive in 1943. And so for us, what that creates is just a real organic commitment to diversity and inclusion and it forces us to sort of strive on to do more. And so, we're really privileged to be working with Rashid and the People‑TECH team on creating new collar workers who can come into the workforce in a fast way and bring with them these new great skills around digital design and cyber security and supplement the traditional workforce. And the work that we're doing with AMIE, which is the Advancing Minorities' Interest in Engineering, the ABET accredited historically Black colleges and universities that are responsible for 30 percent of America's Black engineering talent. And so, we took our leadership curriculum to campus to be able to supplement their rich academic experience so that they can have a real boost when they enter the workforce. These women were creating it organically in the movie out of strength and will; and yet, what we know from all of our partnerships is that we can do a better job when we work together.
O'BRIEN: Let's talk about that next generation, Leah. Tell me exactly what is Girls Who Code? How many young women do you serve, how does it work? GILLIAM: Girls Who Code has been around five years. We have two after school programs. Our focus is on computational thinking and computer science. Our goal is to really make sure that girls everywhere know that they have the ability and the capability to be a computer scientist. To me, that scene of all the women walking through the hallway… O'BRIEN: That's a good scene, right? GILLIAM: …that really focuses on three things that we really think about at Girls Who Code. One is obviously, capability, right? You have to know what you're doing. You have to have that legitimate confidence in the kind of work that you're doing. You also have to have community.
You have to have sisterhood, you have to have support, you have to have context. And then the last thing is career and role models. You have to have some kind of professional trajectory. You have to have not only that sense that this is possible, but they're real systemic and institutional barriers that really stood in people's ways. So, that wave of women to me is so inspirational in that way. But the film also gives us that sense. It's like real systemic institutional barriers, problems that have to be broken down before we can really make way for girls and young women to excel today. O'BRIEN: Tangible opportunities, too, because of course, P‑TECH, Rashid, is exactly that. It's not just inspiration ‑‑ which I think is amazing ‑‑ it's sort of the working half of inspiration. Tell us what P‑TECH is and how it works. DAVIS: So, P‑TECH stands for Pathways in Technology Early College High School.
It is a grades nine through 14 opportunity where the New York City Department of Education, IBM, the City of New York and specifically, New York City College of Technology, students have the opportunity starting at grade nine without any academic screening or testing for admissions to be on a pathway for computer sciences related Associate in applied science; and upon completion, first in line for job opportunities with IBM. And whereas we started with one school in 2011, I'm glad to say that now there are over 60 in seven different states, in the Continent of Australia as well as Morocco. But more importantly, we do have eight young people already hired and working at IBM under the age of 20. And so, we really have created a pathway for America in terms of for the STEM challenge that we are talking about, and particularly for those middle school jobs that are not filled. And so, now we have new collar workers who are demonstrating that when you give access, structure, support and real opportunity, we really can see progress as we've seen in the movie. O'BRIEN: I sometimes become almost confused by the idea, Lindsay‑Rae, you said the first black employee was 1899? MCINTYRE: Correct.
O'BRIEN: I mean, like take a moment and let that sink in, n 1899 they had…and yet, we know the data around certainly women in computer science is actually worse than it was 30 years ago, like we're heading the wrong direction. As a young woman who was coming into computer science, what were the messages that you were getting; and, what do you think has gone a little wrong and what can be done to fix it. GABLER: So, I think it's…I'm really grateful that this movie is here giving us a message of inspiration and role models. I think one of the things that's really important is to have a variety of role models so that young women coming into the field can see you can combine more traditionally feminine interests that are more sort of human oriented and relationship oriented with technology, and that's a fantastic career path.
And the farther we go with some of the kinds of cognitive computing things that we're doing with Watson, the more important those elements are because the computing becomes ubiquitous, it becomes very affected by the ideas and the kinds of data that people expose to it. And at the same time, you can also be a woman and really want to do purely the hardcore technical work, and that's important, too. And so, one of the things I'm really grateful to this movie for is showing a group of people, as you were saying, not just a single individual story, so that people can see there are a sort of variety of ways to inhabit that technical woman role. I think that's really critical and important. And when I think about the work that we're doing today with NASA where we're trying to push those abilities forward and we're looking at things like how do you provide advice to a pilot in the cockpit who is encountering an unexpected situation; or, how can we assist in research on the long‑term health effects of space exposure, those are the kinds of problems where a really wide variety of viewpoints are incredibly important in solving all of the technological underpinnings of that task.
So, we need the most diverse workforce that we can have. O'BRIEN: What are the things that get in the way of getting the most diverse workforce? Tick off the top two that you think we need to tackle first. MCINTYRE: So, I would say that awareness and building the leadership muscle to force people to understand that they can only be better by surrounding themselves with people that think differently than they do, that innovation only comes from diversity. And it is too easy to hire somebody or promote somebody who maybe feels familiar to you, and it's that leadership muscle to think critically about how do I build the most robust, diverse team to tackle the world's biggest challenges, and that does require us to teach new leadership muscle. O'BRIEN: And how about in terms of education for young people? What are you guys seeing that needs to happen so you have people who are ready to accept this challenge? DAVIS: You need bold leadership, just as you saw Kevin Costner in the movie, break down that colored…
it's not colored…for Colored People Only bathroom sign; you need to know access is not enough, that you need to be able to change the traditional culture of whether it's a school environment or industry environment. And so, access, just showing up isn't enough but you really have to make the people who are there feel the need to change the behavior. So, it's really important that IBM did hire eight people under the age of 20 after earning the Associate's degree, so that way others can see the need to be able to change the behavior, the hiring patterns and be able to really know how to embrace under‑represented people in STEM. SPENCER: And I really can't speak to any of that, because I'm an actress, and that's what I do. [ LAUGHTER ] Well, thank you. [ LAUGHTER ] But I think resources need to be made available to people who are from varying degrees of socio economic backgrounds.
One of the things that I'm excited about is the way that IBM has partnered up with FOX to put different scholarships out there for young women to gravitate towards the STEM program. So, that's also a big must, is to have the resources in place for those who might not have the finances. O'BRIEN: That's a great point, right? Inspiration, again, can take you a certain distance; and then, the other half of it has to be something very tangible. There are some metaphors with the film industry in general, which is success begets success. And I know that often I'll watch a film and think like there's…it's for 14 year old boys and I'm clearly not the demographic of, you know, things blowing up. Was this a tough sell to go and say, listen, this is a movie we must make? Was that hard to get done? GABLER: Well, the answer everyone expects me to say is yes, we had to go fight and kill and it took everything, but the reality of it is is that it was very easy.
O'BRIEN: Really? GABLER: Yes. O'BRIEN: I really expected the "we had to go fight and kill." GABLER: No. I actually work for a very supportive company, and Ted is a filmmaker that we would have crawled on glass on our bare feet to work with. MELFI: I wouldn't do that. GABLER: When he brought me the screenplay, I knew that I was the first one to get it from a financing and distribution company in the entertainment industry, and I had to say yes, because I couldn't just take the material and say, well, let's see, we'll figure it out and what can we put in it. So, I read it overnight and I gave it to our chairman ‑‑ a man named Jim Gianopulos ‑‑ and I said you have to read this now and tell me if we're going to make this movie. He goes, well, why do we have to say yes now? And I said, because otherwise they need to find someone that will. And he did, true to his word, 24 hours later I was able to call Ted and say, we're in. And I just…I read it, and I closed the last page of the screenplay and I was crying. And but I was happy and I felt like if we can bring something to the world that makes people up lifted and happy, and a story where it's so positive right now, I just felt like they will come.
And hopefully that's where we are. [ LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE ] O'BRIEN: I mean, it is an amazing story, right, because of that list, positive and happy and also real. Right? I mean, it's a story about America at a time when race relations sometimes seemed to be a big challenge. It's like you know, people do come together to get important work done of all races because they care about the country and want to move forward together. What do you think, what is your line for success? Like you'll feel like you've won it when, what? MELFI: Won what? O'BRIEN: I don't know, just like, you'll feel pleased when what happens? Is it just…I mean, listen, I know… MELFI: Hopefully never. O'BRIEN: …
look at numbers and it can't be…it has to be more than that for you. MELFI: Oh, with the movie? With the movie? O'BRIEN: Yes. MELFI: I don't…I just…you know, I'm already there, because I was in the theater in Atlanta, and we screened the movie at a pre‑screening and this black woman came up to me, she was probably 55 and she was crying profusely. And I just, I didn't know what to do, so I hugged her. And she said, I just want to thank you. This film has given me the strength to carry on. And so, I don't care what it does after that. I mean, that's what the movie's for. O'BRIEN: What is the today battle when it comes to hidden figures? You know, I think often we think of these things as very historical, like, oh, that's an amazing story about back then. What's happening today in hidden figures, and how do you tease out those hidden Figures who we know exist? MCINTYRE: I think that it's hard to imagine a career in the future that isn't going to require technology.
MELFI: Right. MCINTYRE: And so, it's incumbent on all of us as teachers, as leaders, to uncover those hidden figures, to look around us and to, you know, find the 18 and the 19 year olds who have come into the workforce and bring them with us, that there isn't this sense anymore that you sort of have to, you know, earn your time, right? That we are all in it to solve the world's biggest problems for our clients, and to do amazing work, and that's going to require all of us. And so, you know, bringing the hidden figures around us, and if we're all thoughtful, I mean, what this did for me was really sort of gave me a new habit to start to look for who don't I see? Who should I see more of? How can I help? How can I dig deeper? How can I amplify people to allow them to move faster, to get smarter? And so, I feel there is a real opportunity in our ecosystem as leaders and as partners to be able to do that more quickly. GILLIAM: Yes, I think that's a great point.
There are a few messages there that I think are important. One I think is obviously, you know, for young people to get that…to have that historical sense, that there are these three strong figures out there, and to know that there are many more. I mean, at Girls Who Code, we really focus and give girls a sense that there is an historical context for women being involved in STEM, for being involved in computer science. So, that's really important. I think for the adults in the room, and particularly for people in leadership positions, we often mistake a lack of representation with a lack of ability. And I think to really sort of get that personal perspective ‑‑ that there are capable, strong, brilliant people out there and just because you may not see them in the office, that doesn't mean that they're not there. To build a little bit of that picture for people who might not have the imagination, to see what that actually means, a means for people who are hiring, for people who are building teams, people who are solving problems, just the importance of that diversity of opinions, of backgrounds, of points of view.
DAVIS: And the reality of it is we're living in a digital age that requires cognitive thinking to be embraced by all, and so I hope that we don't just live through the opportunities of young people. I hope older people become inspired by seeing Hidden Figures and that we do something about returning to school, returning to become connected to formal of education that allows us to really be connected with the changing jobs that we know are very, very important. By 2050, we're talking about more than 25 percent of the population being the age of 60; and if so, if today we don't start right now making sure that we connect the adults who have not completed formal education as it relates to the change of technology, we're going to find ourselves worldwide in a real challenge. So, this right now is our moonshot, and so I hope that everyone becomes inspired intergenerationally to really connect the dots so that way we really take advantage of this.
O'BRIEN: What are the things that you hear from the girls who are learning to code and from your the students at P‑TECH? What are the obstacles, what do they tell you about what they're finding challenging, that you say I can't.,.. GILLIAM: I mean, I do think there's an issue which is for girls, right around middle school, they're actually very interested in STEM fields. We see that in a lot of women. And I'd be interested to hear if, Kristen, you have this experience, too. They're kind of turned on to technology in middle school, and then something sort of happens later. And part of it are these kind of cultural messages that technology or math is for boys, even though studies show that the aptitude, that girls have the aptitude, it's right there. So, I think one thing we're sort of hearing is often girls just aren't…don't see that this is something that might be of interest to them, or that they're good at.
And in part, you know, because of the vision of technology and innovation is very much the white guy in the hoodie in the dark basement, and that's really not my experience, that's not how I learned to code, that's not my experience of how technology can be helpful and interesting. But often, you know, you see that sort of shift. You see that they're just not…they just don't quite imagine themselves there. That's really true for historically underrepresented groups, groups that are coming from underresourced neighborhoods. If they don't see people out there, someone from their neighborhood, someone who looks like them who does it, it really does impinge their ability to move forward. O'BRIEN: I'd be curious, Kristen, what your advice would be to those kind of girls who are saying that, because you're doing some of the most interesting work around Watson, which is just so incredibly, inherently interesting.
What advice would you give for those girls; and what advice would you give to educators about how to confront these issues? Because we do lose people, right? Suddenly they're incredibly interested and talented and then all of a sudden they lose interest. What would you say? SUMMERS: Yes, absolutely. I totally agrees with Leah's point that girls are interested in these things when they start. And the advice I would give is to focus on that interest. And when you look for role models, again, look for a broad variety. There are lots of ways to do these things. And the guy in the hoodie in the basement, the fact that he's wearing a hoodie and coding in the basement has nothing to do with his coding ability. right? We tend to visualize that as all one package, but it's not. And use the parts that are of interest to you and combine it with your other interests if that's what makes you passionate. There is so much to do in technology that is both core underlying technology, and so much to do that is interdisciplinary where your other interests are really important. And so, my advice would be to follow all of that. And I think if educators encourage that, that's fantastic.
I also want to pick up on something that you were saying earlier about people confusing access with ability. And I think that in many cases there's kind of a mismatch. If people don't express their ability in the ways that are expected, it's not seen as much. And that's something that's a challenge for exercising that leadership muscle that Lindsay‑Rae was talking about, right, where you need to be able to recognize the talent in the way it happens to express itself and also, we can help people to express themselves in the ways that are going to get seen in the current reality. O'BRIEN: Tell me a little bit about how education has to change. You talked about this massive number of jobs, and yet I have four kids in middle school and high school and they're certainly not learning about technology in a way that would make you think, like, these are the jobs that exist now, people. You know, like it's an occasional class sort of, kind of, and if you're lucky, your mom and dad can enroll you in something after school.
I feel like the mindset about this is off. DAVIS: Well, we are an early college and early career model, and so it's very important to give students access but also the opportunity to experience college simultaneously as they're dealing with high school. But also to be able to go to the workplace and see different types of career opportunities and to bring the industry inside of schools. So, it's no longer just thinking about you have to leave your community, but really we need to see more public/private partnerships invade education, come into the schools, go into the community centers where people live and really show opportunities. And so, mentoring becomes important. Every student at P‑TECH is tied to a mentor so that way, in the event if someone is not living in their community or their home who works for IBM, they can connect through school. And so, we make it a point to say we can only disrupt from within by dealing…
not only from people from without, but also by adopting each other. And so, I think it's very important, that connectedness. So, we have to look at more public and private partnerships. MCINTYRE: I also think that you know, we've come from a history that has a very linear cadence to it from an information standpoint. And what we're learning through our partnerships with Leah's organization and with Rashid is that there's so much to be done by disrupting all of that and creating new, innovative on‑ramps for people to experience the stuff that Kristen probably didn't get to until she was in her teens, right? And to be able to introduce the fun technology and how it shows up. And my four year old came home with an hour of code and declared that she was a computer scientist, and I just thought, like, yay, there's hope, you know? So, I think, you know, as Rashid said, we have to all be in this together, and when we pull our resources, as Octavia mentioned, and how we all really dig in, the future technologists can only grow.
O'BRIEN: What has this film done for IBM? I mean, did you know about these women, Kristen? Was this just all surprising to you? I mean, do people at IBM feel like…because I know the film was in process. It's not like you guys started out together to create this film. When the film was well on its way, sort of people said, you know, you all are in this film. So, how has that impacted the folks at IBM and their knowledge of their own history in a way? MCINTYRE: It's interesting, because we have such a tremendous history of diversity and inclusion, it's something that is sort of baked in our DNA, and yet this story has brought to life so many of the things that we know and have introduced a sense of history and future for acquired talent or new talent or our young talent, in particular, who don't necessarily know the stories. And so, there's just an incredible amount of pride and passion, and just an incredible amount of community around the brilliance of these women, and a real tribute to our DNA as a company.
O'BRIEN: Did you know those stories ahead of time? SUMMERS: I did not know those stories ahead of time. But it is baked into IBM's DNA that we support diversity. One of the things that impressed me a lot when I joined IBM is that that is emphasized in the orientation. All of those firsts that Lindsay‑Rae just listed are some of the things that they talk about to new hires and to reinforce all the time. So, that aspect of IBM's genuine commitment to diversity in technology is something that's been really important to me as an IBM employee, and seeing it at all levels of the company ‑‑ seeing the commitment to it at all levels of the company, seeing it play out at all levels of the company. But I didn't know these specific stories, and so that was really exciting and inspiring to learn. O'BRIEN: Octavia, what would you like viewers to walk out of the theater with? SPENCER: You know, I try not to put ideas in people's minds because we all have different life experiences that shape our beliefs.
So, I hope that the message of our film is one of inclusion and one of empowerment and one of advocacy within our community, women working together. O'BRIEN: And fighting for each other. That scene where she's like, you know, it's everybody or not me. SPENCER: Absolutely. I think that's one of the things that I love most about who Dorothy Vaughan was. She wanted to advance her own career, but she also understood that one person advancing meant that they all advanced, so it was constantly about putting the best person forward for each individual job and advocating for that. And in the film, throughout, you see a lot of advocating. You see Kevin advocating…or, Kevin's character, advocating for Taraji's character. You see John Glenn advocating for Katherine. So, you know, advocacy begins with you, the individual.
And again, I am just really, really humbled by the fact that when Elizabeth got the script she immediately jumped at the chance because like Ted said, this is not the model for a Hollywood blockbuster, but we hope with the support of all of the people who not only want to see this history celebrated, but see the diversity in the STEM Fields. We hope that we can change that narrative, that this, too, can change the world. O'BRIEN: One more question for Ted, and then I'm going to open it up to the audience. Ted, I'm curious, one thing I found surprising in the film was just how much fun the women were. They're fun and they're real. It's not like I am burdened with bringing my race along as we do math; they were normal, wonderful, amazing women. Obviously, that's who they were. Is it hard to tell a story about real people when, obviously, sometimes as a director you need to kind of make it entertainment forward, too? MELFI: Yes, there's always.
..you always feel a deep sense of responsibility when you're telling someone's true story to get it right. And I guess the best litmus test was we screened it, we screened it for Katherine Johnson… O'BRIEN: Oh, gosh. MELFI: …about six weeks ago. She's 98 now, and we rented a little theater for her in Virginia in her hometown. She lives 20 minutes from NASA Langley in Virginia. And we rented the theater and she came in her wheelchair with her two children. I say "children," but they're 75. [ LAUGHTER ] No, she came with her whole family, and they watched the movie, and they were just crying and crying. And they said, thank you for capturing the essence of our family exactly as we remember it ‑‑ because there was such love in that family. And you know, I don't want to give too much away, but there's a line in the movie where Jim Johnson says, I know marrying you includes marrying your girls as well, and that's a direct quote. So, a lot of these things were built around individual moments that we had researched and studied. So, anyway, that made me feel good that at least we got that part of it right.
You know, you do the best you can with telling the real story. The good thing is it's not so well known. I mean, if you're telling a story about JFK, I mean, obviously, you can't mess too much of that up. O'BRIEN: I want to open it up to questions. If you have a question, could you come to this mic which is right in the center aisle and pose a question for the folks in our audience. It's an interesting time. Oh, go ahead, sir. A couple of quick ground rules, every question should have a question in it… [ LAUGHTER ] …and if it doesn't, I'll get you to one. Yes, exactly. And also, just mention who you would like on the panel to answer that question. Anybody else who has a question, you're welcome to line up behind him so that you can come up next in line. Go ahead, sir. QUESTION: Thanks so much for a wonderful panel.
I was just wondering if a few of you would like to share some of the role models in your lives that led you to this particular stage this morning? O'BRIEN: I'm going to ask Kristen to kick it off for us. SUMMERS: Sure, so, there have been role models throughout my career, but the one who comes to mind immediately was the CTO at a previous company where I worked because she was such an example of someone who was strong and directing and really had a technical vision that she was bringing people to. And doing all of that as a woman in a field of men, often the only woman in the room, right? So, watching her do that and learning from her, seeing how she could really shape a technical vision and make it a reality and make that happen in both the technical side and interactive side was really important to me. But it's also true that there have been mentors and role models throughout my career, you know, in undergraduate and graduate school, at every level. Having, working directly with women who were strong in the field pursuing their own interests and passions has really been an important part of that, absolutely.
O'BRIEN: How about for you, Rashid? DAVIS: Oh, definitely, I would say my parents, my mother and my grandmother. And in particular, my mother and grandfather who did not even have a high school education but had integrity and taught me about the need to have integrity and the need to have hard work and the need to be able to run twice as fast as others just to stand still. So, those people still to this day, I try to work as hard as I can, because I know that that matters. O'BRIEN: Leah, I'd love to know your role model in science and technology. GILLIAM: Yes, I was really lucky, I have amazing parents that were both trailblazers in their fields. But they also were really committed to education. So, whatever I showed an interest in, they would show me that there were women and African‑American people who had done these things. So, whether it was Madam CJ Walker, when I was kind of obsessed with business and entrepreneurialism, whether it was Paul Robson when I had like kind of a very politically engaged phase and was still thinking about how do you be creative and make art. So, Charles Drew; I really grew up with lots of examples.
And then, you know, really throughout my career I kept having these great examples of mentors, but also kind of sponsors, people who just sort of thought I was interesting or we got along on an interpersonal level. You know, they didn't look like me at all, but they sort of gave me a kind of a leg up and really helped advance my ideas and my thinking. So, I always like to talk about sponsorship and mentorship right in the same breath, because both are really important. O'BRIEN: Lindsay‑Rae? MCINTYRE: For me, my mother was a force of nature, but I had incredible educators growing up who would give me new opportunities and push me. And in my corporate life, I've had incredible male mentors, and I think it's important particularly in engineering and in technology for our male leadership to understand that they really play an incredible role in being able to dig in and advance women and diverse talent in STEM in particular.
O'BRIEN: Great. Thanks for the question. QUESTION: Thanks, guys. O'BRIEN: We appreciate that you're kneeling so that you don't block our cameras. So, we're very…we know it's killing your knees, but we're very grateful. QUESTION: Yes, I feel like I'm in the statistic quickly of what you quoted earlier as far as, you know, the aging society. I'm Scott Burnett and I'm with IBM, and I'm also on the board of CTA and also the CTA Foundation, which is the 501(c)(3 ) to promote diversity, and also with the aging technology. Right? And so Rashid, Leah, we talked on the phone, Octavia, wonderful panel. My question is as we look at the promotion of getting the word out and the STEM outreach, and your work ‑‑ each of your work, and maybe Octavia, your perspective as well ‑‑ what will these girls…what will the younger generation be working on as we promote the STEM and technology? What things will they be doing specifically? For example, Rashid, we have a panel I saw that you're going to be hosting later on. O'BRIEN: One‑thirty, I'll give you the address later.
QUESTION: Yes. Yes, yes. Where we're looking at packing autonomous vehicles for accessibility for those with disabilities. Can you give me some ideas of what you think the younger generation will be working on in making a difference? You know, the IBM mainframe was the, you know, of old, right, and now we have with Watson, or Watson, artificial intelligence. I'm really interested in your perspective, what do you think they'll be working on? O'BRIEN: Yes, and I'd be curious to know…and what the students have said they're interested in, like what are their dreams that maybe others haven't thought of. GILLIAM: Yes. I mean, at Girls Who Code, although we have the word "code" in our name, I mean, what we really focus on is computational thinking and kind of the kind of core concepts that you need to understand ‑‑ in part, because we know the technology is constantly changing, and you just need to have that sort of firm grounding to take on whatever comes next. So, we're real proponents of not learning one particular language. Like, that's not where we start with girls, but we make sure they understand functions, and conditionals, and just decide that they can..
.they have an interest and they understand what technology can do, what the power of technology is, so that they… And they know that whatever they'll be doing in two years and five years is going to be completely different from what they're learning right now. It's just that firm foundation, it's that strong foundation and the love, you know, of working and thinking in this way that we most importantly try to make sure that they take on and understand. So, making it relevant, is one of the important things. DAVIS: And we have a wide spectrum of what we see, but what I try to definitely impart is the love of learning, because what they will be continuing to change. So, we have some who actually are working on their own patents. We have some who love hackathons. We have some that are interested in law, some that are interested in medicine, some are interested in cyber security. So, really right now you have some who really love to teach, and so that becomes incredibly important to say, it's not so much important to think what it is that I want you to do, but how do you challenge your teachers? How do you challenge the adults? How do you challenge your parents to think differently and to really understand that your voice is what matters.
And so, it's not enough to just regurgitate what you hear, but really challenge us. Challenge me. Hold me accountable to make sure that you are not invisible and that, of course, we are talking about a school that is more than 70 percent male, and so our females are still in the 20 percent range, but we don't want them to feel lost or invisible. And so they have no problems coming in my Office every day to let me know what they're interested in, but also how we can actually reach them where they are. O'BRIEN: What do you think, Kristen, they'll be working on? SUMMERS: So, I think they'll be working on all kinds of things that we can't even imagine. But today we're sort of moving towards things that are more in the realm of cognitive computing, and I think that foundation is so important because it's different not only in that you may be coding in a different language but it may not really be about you writing the code; it may be about you training the system, enhancing it, recognizing what data it can operate on.
But you need that computational thinking. You need to understand what's going on inside the system to do things effectively. And I think that sometimes people feel stuck if they think entering technology is about learning one particular skill and then that skill is where they get pigeonholed or then things change and they feel overwhelmed. If you have that strong foundation, you move to the next thing. And we are looking at processing all kinds of information that wasn't designed for computers to process, enabling natural interactions with computers by doing that, by letting the computer learn automatically from examples, by bringing in emotion into the way the computer interacts with people. And all of those things are going to require different applications of those foundational skills. That's part of what is so exciting about them because they really sort of press the boundaries of what we usually think of as computational thinking.
O'BRIEN: Great. Our next question. Go ahead. QUESTION: Hi. I was not expecting to kneel to get in here. O'BRIEN: I'm so sorry. Again, I apologize to your knees and our cameraman thanks you very much. [ LAUGHTER ] QUESTION: It's cool. So, first of all, I love this panel just because it covers like [INAUDIBLE], first of all, very familiar with IBM, you don't just talk diversity; you actually do, and I appreciate that, as well as making sure that we are getting more people in terms of Girls Who Code, making sure that there is an Associate, because college is not always feasible for all of us and [they need] representation. So, you all did good. So, I guess my question now is that we are facing a world where most of us in this room, we are technologically profound, we know what to do, we know where we are in this space, but we are leaving behind a decent gap.
And while it is so impressive to get in young people, I'm an engineer, so I love to go out and get middle school, high school kids excited about what we can do. But we are leaving a sector in the middle who was before them they didn't have to learn, and now we're talking about the idea that it may someday be illegal for humans to drive because we have automated cars coming. And so, how do we bridge that gap and make sure that we are honed and forward and it's not just thinking about just youth but we're making sure that those people, especially in POC communities where it's low‑income, like how we make sure we're pulling them up. O'BRIEN: So, that's a great question which I think is the ultimate: how do you not leave people behind. You know, disruption, which is the word you mentioned earlier, right, has this horrible side effect of leaving a whole bunch of people behind.
I'd be curious if anybody has any thoughts. MCINTYRE: I think…I mean, what Kristen spoke to, what Leah spoke to, what Octavia spoke to, is building a space where curiosity is embraced and encouraged. Right? And so, a curiosity to learn something new, a curiosity to uncover something new and to be able for us in some of these examples, to be able to deploy real resources that are virtual, scalable and resonate to meet people where they are and to get them a taste of what's possible, and then continue to grow on that. O'BRIEN: Thank you. And thanks for the question, that's a great question. We have a handful of people in our line, we have just a few minutes left. So, we're going to do it really fast. If you can give me a tight…you can stand.
I don't want to ruin your knees. If you'll ask the question of our panelist, tell me which panelist you'd love to tackle the question, and then we'll move it along and try to get to everybody in line. Okay? Thanks. QUESTION: Well, thank you very much for this important conversation and taking time to do it. This is for anybody who cares to answer. Kind of piggybacks off the last question. But given our current political climate, I'm seeing a rise in anti‑intellectualism, anti‑science, people that are like climate change denyers and whatnot, and just the Internet just, you know, fostering that. So, what would be your advice for nurturing young minds to look into science and to stray away from anti‑science in that way. O'BRIEN: Maybe, Rashid, you could take that for us. DAVIS: I think it's.
..the intergenerational approach is so important. What we have seen from our early graduates, we now have 54 students who have completed the Associate in applied science, but their parents and family members who are interested in returning to school to be formally educated, I can't tell you how inspiring that is, but also how that's growing… …growing so much that we are putting in an Adult Ed component in terms of on our campus because many parents are saying, well, you know what? I need to be able to learn this new technology. I need to be able to learn these skills that my children have. And they feel safe enough, because we are partners with them in this model in making sure that industry is also partners with them.
And so, when we talk about educating children, we're talking about really educating the entire family. And so, the partnership really is about community building, and so we must understand that it's no longer just thinking of just the pre‑K through 12 model. Community school really means involving the entire community, and if that means an elderly person needs to be returned to be formally educated we need to be able to open our doors. And just recently, our chancellor in one of our principals' meetings said, if you need to be able to make your program available to the adult community that they're interested, you need to find a way to do that, because that's really the true definition of community schools, and how do we make suer we do that. And I think the inspiration that's coming from them, we're seeing that, and so I'm hopeful that more connections between the generations, within each community will be able to spur what you're talking about. O'BRIEN: We're almost out of time, so I'm going to give our last question to Octavia, if I may.
.. SPENCER: Oh. O'BRIEN: …which is, the article this morning that I mentioned, Oscar‑worthy, I think is the quote that I read. If you want to run with this. If you want to run with that rumor, I support that. [ APPLAUSE ] Are you like dusting…where do you keep your other Oscar? [ LAUGHTER ] And are you moving it over to the left slightly so that if something should happen and you have a second one that needs to get jammed in there, I'm curious. Just wondering. SPENCER: It comes everywhere with me. [ LAUGHTER ] You know, I have a little built‑in shelf and it's right there with all of its cousins. But you know, I accidentally took a picture of it with…accidentally? [ LAUGHTER ] No, teasing. It's where I can be reminded. So, it's just there. O'BRIEN: Reminded of excellent work, and I think it's a great way to mention that this film is just an example of tremendous excellence ‑‑ not only the acting, obviously, and the directing and the film making, but also the story, right? It's a true story of true American heroes who have not been celebrated really before. So, congratulations to all of you involved.
Thank you to our panelists, and thank you for joining us..