The three Washington, D.C.-area high school students came up with an innovative way to purify lead-contaminated water in school drinking fountains — an idea that landed them in the list of finalists for a prestigious NASA competition.
The trio of Mikayla Sharrieff, India Skinner and Bria Snell from the District of Columbia’s Banneker High School is the only all-black, female team to make it that far in the agency’s coveted nationwide contest.
The next stage of the competition was to garner support from the public, for which NASA opened the contest to online voting. The teenage girls also turned to the social media to promote their project.
Things were going exceedingly well for the girls, as by the end of the week they had topped the online polls with 78 percent of the vote. The group was thrilled by the recognition their work was getting as one of the teens even sent a celebratory message to her teammates and coaches, which said, "Hidden figures in the making."
The message was a reference to the 2016 movie based on a real life story of three African-American women who worked for NASA in the 1960s.
However, things didn’t continue to go as smooth for the girls as they would have liked. Soon enough, a group of users from 4chan — an anonymous internet forum whose members have a terrible penchant for spewing racist remarks — surfaced to undermine the efforts of the trio.
These users, who are known propagators of hoaxes and groundless conspiracy theories, couldn’t sit back as the three 11th-graders’ votes racked up. Hence, they pulled out the oldest trick out of the bag by reportedly pushing allegations the black community was only voting for the girls because they are black. They also asserted the girls don’t deserve the spot they got.
According to CNN, the notorious group tried other vile methods to put the African Americans back in the race. For instance, several threads were revealed where 4chan users urged each other to vote for teenage boys instead. They even tried to hack the voting system to meddle in the process. Moreover, some of the members of the group posted offensive racists remarks and called other members to spread the foul campaign.
The contemptible attempts of the group to disrupt the process prompted NASA to close down the online voting.
The institution sent out a statement:
"Unfortunately, it was brought to NASA's attention yesterday that some members of the public used social media, not to encourage students ... but to attack a particular student team based on their race and encourage others to disrupt the contest and manipulate the vote ... the attempt to manipulate the vote occurred shortly after those posts. NASA continues to support outreach and education for all Americans, and encourages all of our children to reach for the stars."
However, the organization assured the public that prior to the disruption they were able to store an accurate record of the voting. The winners, who will be chosen by a panel of judges, will be granted an incredible opportunity to spend two days at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland with scientists and astronauts.
In addition, the winning team will also get prize money of $4,000.
The teenage girls aren't discouraged by the mean trolls and are in fact delighted by the response they got from people all over the country.
"The ladies are ecstatic about the experience and opportunity the NASA challenge provided," said the girls’ mentor. "While it is true they had amazing community support in the popular public voting, the challenge is focused on the delivery of the scientific exploration ... Win or lose — the girls met their goals and will wish the final winner congratulations."
The trio just wanted to make a contribution in a field where they are undoubtedly underrepresented and despite of attempts to corrupt the results, their spirits are still high.
“In the STEM field, we are underrepresented,” said Sharrieff in an interview. “It’s important to be role models for a younger generation who want to be in the STEM field but don’t think they can.”
Moreover, a group of scumbags might have been able to prompt NASA to close down the voting but they couldn’t stop the project from drawing attention of people who actually have an eye for real talent. As a trusted platform for personal fundraising, GoFundMe campaign, has already raised $3,100 out of the $20,000 target amount for the teenage scientists.
Banner/Thumbnail: Photo by Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images