The first step to achieving a big dream is believing that it is possible. For students considering careers in science, technology, and engineering, securing that kernel of belief isn't always easy. It can help to meet people who are already making it happen and to see the specialized facilities that make groundbreaking research possible.

With that in mind, Virginia Tech's Division of Information Technology is teaming up with InclusiveVT, the College of Science, and the College of Engineering to organize a unique event called "Hidden Figures: Into the Future," which will bring middle and high school students from the region to campus on March 19 and 20. 

TeAirra Brown, Gates Millenium Scholar and Ph.D. candidate in the Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE), will deliver the keynote speech at the event. Within ISE, Brown, of Portsmouth, Virginia, works on applying cognitive theory and gamification strategies to augmented reality learning environments. 

In 2017, Brown received the Virginia Tech Black Graduate Student Organization's Graduate Achievement Award and was recently inducted into the Edward A. Bouchet Graduate Honor Society for her academic performance and strong commitment to mentoring and diversity initiatives within her field. 

Before the movie, Brown will share her story and offer insights into the transformative power of working to achieve a worthy dream.

She will also introduce audience members to a film that has particular resonance in her own life as well as notable historical ties to Virginia Tech. The stability wind tunnel in the Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering (AOE) came to the university from the NASA Langley Research Center, where it was the immediate predecessor of the wind tunnel that features prominently in the movie. In addition, the development of NASA's original Mission Control Center was led by Virginia Tech alumnus and aerospace engineer Christopher C. Kraft, Jr.

"We're part of the university community, but also part of the larger community in the Roanoke and New River Valleys, and our future is tied up with the success of the region and the commonwealth," said Scott Midkiff, vice president for Information Technology. "That's why it is so important to work to widen academic and career opportunities for everyone, especially women and underrepresented groups, and to lower barriers for black and Latino students entering the STEM fields." 

Event Happenings

Beyond the movie showing, participants will get a chance to participate in science and technology experiences immediately after the movie (as well as the evening before). Tour participants will visit labs and facilities that usually only researchers get to see. The opportunities include: 

Monday, March 19 

  • A build-and-program-your-own Martian Laser Robot workshop, led by Margaret Ellis from the Department of Computer Science. 

  • Tours of the Stability Wind Tunnel in the Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering, led by Mathew Ruda, Aurelien Borgoltz, and Eric Paterson.

Tuesday, March 20 

  • A tour of the Advanced Research Computing Visionarium and the Assistive Technologies Lab in the Division of Information Technology, led by Lance Arsenault and Mark Nichols. 

  • A tour of Goodwin Hall and the Terrestrial Robotics Lab in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, led by Rosaire Bushey and Alexander Leonessa.

  • A tour of the College of Engineering's Ware Lab, where vehicles and machines are built from scratch, led by Katie Brown and Dewey Spangler.

  • A tour of Solar Energy and Drug Delivery research underway in the Department of Chemistry, led by Amanda Morris and her students, Hannah Cornell and Brittany Bonnet. 

  • A tour of the Paleontology Lab in the Department of Geosciences, led by Michelle Stocker. 

All activities are free of charge, but registration is required since space is limited. The overall event spans two evenings, with the keynote speech and matinee showing of "Hidden Figures" starting at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, March 20 (doors open at 3:30 p.m. at Haymarket Theater, Squires Student Center).  

Visit for complete information and to register. 


Ph.D. student TeAirra Brown works with interactive technology at the COGENT Lab in ISE.

Student uses tablet computer to connect with tabletop display unit used for augmented reality research.
TeAirra Brown interacts with a tablet-based augmented reality application by pointing the tablet toward a set of digit markers on the display board.
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