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3 Black Girls Cyberbullied at NASA Competition Just Won a $4,000 Science Grant

After advancing to the final round of a prestigious NASA competition, three black teen girls faced racist cyberbullying on the website 4chan last week when anonymous internet trolls conspired to swing the online vote against them. 

But yesterday, the teens were awarded an even greater honor than the top prize. 

On Thursday, the three young women — Mikayla Sharrieff, India Skinner, and Bria Snell — received a personal shoutout from Washington DC mayor Muriel Bowser and a $4,000 grant to continue working on their project, which removes lead from tap water, according to a press release from the mayor’s office.  

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“Through their brilliance and passion, Mikayla, India, and Bria are bringing our vision for [the competition] to life and making our city proud,” Bowser said in a statement. “Mikayla, India, and Bria are just the type of people and scientists our world needs more of and we are proud to support their dreams.”

The NASA competition, called the Optimus Prime Spinoff Promotion and Research Challenge, or OPSPARC, challenges students to adapt the tools that allow humans to fly in space (such as memory foam, invisible braces, and aircraft anti-icing systems) to solve problems in their own communities. 

Sharrieff, Skinner, and Snell made up the only all-black or all-female group across the competition, Fox News reports

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The three girls, all 17 years old, were part of a program called In3, a DC-based tech incubator that aims to increase minority representation in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. 

According to TIME Magazine, the group called themselves “Hidden figures in the making.” 

“In the STEM field, we are underrepresented,” Sharrieff, one of the girls, told the Washington Post. “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.”

Read More: The Gender Gap in STEM Classes is Finally Closing, Study Finds

According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, women made up less than 30% of the STEM workforce in 2016 and minorities just 11% — despite making up around 30% of the US population. 

But movies like Hidden Figures, which illustrated the indelible mark three black women left on NASA’s moon launch in the 1960s, and programs like In3 are trying to bridge these divides. 

Despite backlash against them, the next generation of ‘hidden figures’ still have a shot at winning NASA’s big prize. According to the OPSPARC website, the winner of the competition will be announced in May.