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Exclusive: The White House’s New Initiative Writes STEM Women Back Into History

The world has always benefitted from the scientific accomplishments and technological ingenuity of women--their stories just haven’t always been told. A White House audio initiative launched Thursday aims to shake up that silence. In “The Untold History of Women in Science and Technology,” women from across the Obama Administration share the stories of their personal heroes in STEM, better establishing the legacy that these women left.

U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith starts the series off with an oral history of Rear Admiral Grace Hopper. Hopper invented the idea of computer languages, using English rather than mathematical notation. When Smith tells this story, you can hear the delight in her voice.

“Telling and sharing these stories will actively help create more of them in the future,” Smith wrote with Dr. Jo Handelsman, the head of the White House Science Division, in a blog post introducing the project. “Research shows us that a key part of inspiring more young people to pursue careers in science and technology is simply sharing the stories of role models like them in these fields who have had significant impact on our world.”

NASA Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan tells the story of Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who calculated the Apollo 11 flight to the moon, while EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy remembers Rachel Carson, a marine biologist and author who is credited with starting the modern environmental movement. These women defined our world in big ways--it’s high time they became household names.

With the 12 White House-told tracks as a starting point, listeners are encouraged to add their own untold histories. Story subjects don’t have to be Nobel Prize winners, the guidelines state--the only requirement is to be an inspiration in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. The White House is writing a tech-enabled, crowd-sourced history book, aiming to capture female contributions in STEM fields. To fill the centuries-old void, they’ll need a lot of voices.

Hear inspiring stories and contribute here. Then get more of Megan Smith’s stories on MAKERS.