For Racheida Lewis (ECE ’13), getting the chance to see the film “Hidden Figures” before it hit theaters nationwide didn’t just make her feel lucky.
She was deeply moved to find herself among crowds of other people also eager to see the untold story about African American women mathematicians at NASA during the Space Race. “There was so much that resonated with me,” she said. “I was never more proud to be a black woman in engineering.”
On Instagram, Lewis wrote, “Don’t be a hidden figure — let your potential shine through the obstacles that try to stop you.”
Lewis, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the VCU School of Engineering with minors in math and physics, has been leading and inspiring others herself. She went on to earn a master’s degree in electrical engineering at the University of Virginia and is currently a doctoral student studying engineering education at Virginia Tech. She hopes to become a professor of electrical engineering.
Lewis is also the national secretary of the National Society of Black Engineers. She’s been a key voice in the organization’s latest social media campaign, #BlackSTEMLikeMe, which was driven by all the buzz about “Hidden Figures.”
“Representation matters,” she said. By seeing African American engineers both on the big screen and in real life, she said she hopes younger students will take heart. “This is what engineering looks like.”
Earlier this month, Lewis appeared on a panel of women software developers and engineers discussing gender and race in technology at Virginia Tech. Lewis shared a personal low point early in her college career, at VCU, when she was struggling and thought about quitting engineering. She said she went to her circuits instructor and asked, “Is it me? Am I not studying enough, or am I just dumb and can’t get it?”
Her teacher pointed out that she was taking an extremely heavy course load and assured her that she could learn the subject. “I made it out of Circuits with a C,” she said, laughing. In her next circuits course: she got an A.