Previous winners include Barbara Bass, a leader in academic medicine known for her work to improve surgeons’ training; Dawn Staley, an Olympic basketball gold medal winner and Hall of Famer as a player and a national title-winning collegiate coach; and journalist Katie Couric, a former anchor of NBC’s “Today” morning show.
Jane Kulow became aware of Shetterly through the publishing world when Kulow was the director of Virginia Humanities' Virginia Center for the Book. Kulow wanted to involve Shetterly with the Virginia Festival of the Book. Right away, Shetterly stood out.
“The immediate success of the book and the movie put Margot in the spotlight, and the grace with which she reacted to that fame and the demands it made of her was impressive,” Kulow said.
Since publishing “Hidden Figures,” Shetterly served as a historical consultant on the film adaptation, starring Octavia Spencer and Taraji P. Henson, and wrote an illustrated children’s version of the book. She has also continued to work on The Human Computer Project, designed to teach people about the women behind America’s space program.
In telling the stories of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, Shetterly encouraged Black girls to imagine a future in math or science, Kulow said.
“But she made a clear road for the publication of other stories like this, by demonstrating the immense appetite for more stories about our common past,” Kulow said.
Shetterly said winning the Distinguished Alumna Award wouldn’t have been possible without other women.
“I feel like I'm not so much accepting this award on my own behalf, but on behalf of the thousands of women who have come through here since women were allowed at this university, and made it possible for me to come,” Shetterly said.
Shetterly has come a long way since she collected newspaper clippings, but she says she still has the binder in her Charlottesville home.