Bria Snell, India Skinner, and Mikayla Sharrieff are three young, black women who are making big moves in STEM and recently developed a water purification system that would allow their fellow students at D.C.’s Benjamin A. Banneker Academic High School to have safe drinking water since some of the water fountains at the school couldn’t be used due to potential lead contamination. According to The Root, the three young women’s project had taken an early lead with 70 percent of the vote in the NASA Goddard’s Optimus Prime Spinoff Promotion and Research Challenge. Unfortunately, not everyone was rooting for the team and The Washington Post reports that NASA recently made a statement explaining they were forced to shut down public voting in the competition due to the hateful actions of racist trolls:
“On Sunday, April 29, hackers attempted to change the vote totals in the NASA OPSPARC Challenge, so managers of the challenge decided to end public voting to protect the integrity of the results.”
“Unfortunately, it was brought to NASA’s attention yesterday that some members of the public used social media, not to encourage students and support STEM, but to attack a particular student team based on their race and encouraged others to disrupt the contest and manipulate the vote, and the attempt to manipulate the vote occurred shortly after those posts.”
The publication shared that posts alleged that the trio who were competing against other teams for a trip to visit NASA’s national space program in Maryland were only leading in votes due to their ethnicity and not their efforts:
“…the anonymous posters used racial epithets, argued that the students’ project did not deserve to be a finalist and said that the black community was voting for the teens only because of their race. They urged people to vote against the Banneker trio, and one user offered to put the topic on an Internet thread about President Trump to garner more attention. They recommended computer programs that would hack the voting system to give a team of teenage boys a boost.”
The competition called for participants to find uses for NASA spinoff technology in everyday life. Eleventh graders Snell, Skinner and Sharrieff volunteer in D.C.’s Inclusive Innovation Incubator and formed the team “S3″. They were among eight finalists at the time public voting was closed. In addition to a trip to the space program, the young women were also in the lead to win $4000 for their ingenuity. The project, called “S3Trio H2NO to H20” shows a filter that’s designed to clean drinking water in schools noting that the city is currently renovating many schools where the filter could be used.
A NASA spokesperson says that winners of the competition will be announced in the next few weeks and insists they will continue to encourage the creativity and investigative spirit of ALL youth:
“NASA continues to support outreach and education for all Americans, and encourages all of our children to reach for the stars.”
We encourage “S3” to ignore the haters and continue to get their “Hidden Figures” on. Maybe if the skeptics did less posting and promoting hate on social media, they might have a chance at changing the world too.