The 50 international women leaders in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) who recently traveled to the United States as part of the U.S. State Department’s third-annual Hidden No More International Visitor Leadership Program are far from hidden. In fact, they are trailblazers in fields such as computer science, robotics and spacecraft engineering, to name just a few. Inspired by the 2016 film Hidden Figures, which told the story of the brilliant women who were unsung heroes of the Space Race, the U.S. State Department launched the Hidden No More program three years ago to shine a light on today’s innovators in the STEM fields. Hidden No More brings to the U.S. women from across the globe for three weeks of networking, sharing of best practices for fostering “hidden talent” and examining ways to inspire the next generation of women in STEM.
The Walt Disney Company partnered with the U.S. State Department for this year’s program, which culminated with a capstone day on November 14 at Disney’s Burbank Studio lot that spotlighted how storytelling, technology and innovation come to life in Disney content, both on screen and in our theme parks.
Sujatha Yeruva, Ph.D., who heads up the Department of Computer Science at India’s St. Francis College for Women, was surprised to discover how creativity and technology go hand in hand at Walt Disney Animation Studios (WDAS). “I didn’t know that programming is involved in animation. I thought these are two different fields,” explains Yeruva, who was fascinated to hear from some of WDAS’ women technologists about the important role that programming, computer languages and software play in the studio’s films. Yeruva had previously seen her Computer Science department as completely independent from her college’s Mass Communications department. “But I found a bridge between those two today. It was wonderful,” she shares.
The capstone day also included visits to The Walt Disney Studios’ Innovation Lab, where Disney advances the art of storytelling with cutting-edge tools and methods, and to Walt Disney Imagineering, where the Hidden No More participants heard from women Imagineers who are developing innovative experiences for theme parks around the world. Earlier in the week, the women had the opportunity to visit Disneyland park and witness firsthand Disney magic and the spell that it casts over guests of all ages. “It was very beautiful, and gave me many ideas to approach creating new exhibitions,” says Arom Mucharin, Ph.D., a Marine Naturalist and Science Educator at Thailand’s National Science Museum. Mucharin is a researcher, but, like most of the Hidden No More participants, she is driven to share her knowledge with her country’s youth to inspire their curiosity and love of STEM.
The Hidden No More women come from vastly different backgrounds and are leaders in a wide range of disciplines, but the three-week program enabled them to discover common ground. “I can see the lifelong passion in each field that we have all chosen. There is so much inspiration that we can draw from each other,” says Yeruva, who has invited many of her fellow participants to visit her college and share their expertise with her students.
These amazing women are also driven by an unwavering desire to learn. “Life is learning. You stop when you die,” laughs Mucharin, who is excited about the possibility of collaborating with a fellow Hidden No More participant on a research exhibition to Antarctica.
Both Mucharin and Yeruva have been energized by the three weeks they’ve spent exchanging ideas with their fellow Hidden No More participants and with the professional counterparts they’ve met across the U.S. Yeruva says it’s been inspiring to hear so many success stories and accounts from women of “how they found the strength to go ahead and be what they were supposed to be. It’s a galaxy of stars coming together.”