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Provost Summer Read Program

Hidden Figures BookOverview

The Provost Summer Read Program is built around a common book that is read over the summer by all first year students. This year's book is Hidden Figures: The Story of the African-American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly. After first year students arrive on campus to begin their fall semester of classes, they will participate in a meaningful dialogue with faculty and your peers, inside and out of the classroom.

About the Book

Before John Glenn orbited the Earth or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of professionals worked as “Human Computers,” calculating the flight paths that would enable these historic achievements. Among these were a coterie of bright, talented African-American women. Segregated from their white counterparts by Jim Crow laws, these “colored computers,” as they were known, used slide rules, adding machines, and pencil and paper to support America’s fledgling aeronautics industry, and helped write the equations that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.

About the Author

Writer, researcher, and entrepreneur Margot Lee Shetterly is the author of Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, which is a top book of 2016 for both TIME and Publisher’s Weekly, USA Today bestseller, and a #1 (and instant) New York Times bestseller. The film adaptation of her book—which became the number one movie in America—stars Taraji P. Henson (Empire), Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kirsten Dunst, and Kevin Costner. It has been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, and Octavia Spencer has been nominated for Best Supporting Actress. To The New York Times, the film introduces viewers to “real people you might wish you had known more about earlier … [who] can fill you with outrage at the persistence of injustice and gratitude toward those who had the grit to stand up against it.”

Shetterly is also the founder of the Human Computer Project, a digital archive of the stories of NASA’s African-American “Human Computers” whose work tipped the balance in favor of the United States in WWII, the Cold War, and the Space Race. Shetterly’s father was among the early generation of black NASA engineers and scientists, and she had direct access to NASA executives and the women featured in the book. She grew up around the historically black Hampton College, where the women in Hidden Figures studied. Along with Aran Shetterly, Shetterly co-founded the magazine Inside Mexico. She graduated from The University of Virginia, and is a 2014 Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow.

Bio courtesy of The Lanvin Group.

Frequently Asked Questions

The Provost Summer Read Program is built around a common book read by all first-year students during the summer. The book selected for 2016 is Listening is an Act of Love: A Celebration of American Life from the StoryCorps Project by Dave Isay.

The Office of the Provost is pleased to provide first-year students with a copy of Listening is an Act of Love which will be distributed during the summer. Students can buy additional or replacement copies at the University bookstore or other retail outlets. Electronic versions can also be purchased through popular bookselling websites.

All incoming freshmen will read the selected book and participate in a meaningful dialogue with faculty and your peers, inside and out of the classroom.
We are excited to host the book’s author, Dave Isay, for a campus visit. During his visit, Mr. Isay will deliver a public lecture and participate in activities and events with students, faculty, and community supporters.
We are eager to answer your questions and provide further information about this program. Please email one of our program specialists at for a prompt reply.