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Dr. Rudy Horne

Math, Movies and OU... an award-winning forumla

Hollywood lights are shining bright for one University of Oklahoma alumnus. Rudy Horne, Ph.D. (’91), worked as a math consultant for the Oscar-nominated movie ‘Hidden Figures.’ The movie tells the story of three African-American female mathematicians who played a vital role in getting astronaut John Glenn to and from space. Before the making of the film, Director Theodore Melfi saw the need for the film’s own hidden figure to ensure all mathematical “props” were formulated and executed correctly. Queue: OU alumnus Rudy Horne. Passionate about the field of math and its application across many disciplines, Horne stepped onto the set for an opportunity he never saw coming. 

Q: Before we dive into the movie, Dr. Horne, what brought you to OU for your undergraduate degree?

A: I’m originally from Chicago, and when I was in high school, one of my uncles introduced me to a high school counselor. It turned out that the counselor was like, “Have you ever heard of the University of Oklahoma?” At the time, I wasn’t familiar with the university. I then received an OU brochure encouraging me to come, so I did. Now I’m a die-hard Sooner.

Q: What did you think about Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan’s roles as “human calculators” for NASA?

A: These women are not only doing their jobs, but they’re doing their jobs in the Civil Rights Movement and amidst the geo-political culture of the Cold War. It’s pretty remarkable. The type of work these women did for NASA is pretty amazing.

Q: What’s it like to bring something you’re passionate about – math – into an Oscar-nominated film?

A: When I went into it, I had never heard of the story about Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan. Brining math into it, I’m happy I was able to contribute to the theme of the movie. Mathematics is a prop in this film, but I was happy to be a part of the experience and try to honor these three women. 

Q: What was it like to be on set and working with Oscar-nominated actors and actresses?

Working on the set was cool, and everyone was very nice. Working with Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kirsten Dunst and Kevin Costner was great. Everyone was committed to making this a great movie and honoring these women, and you can tell that in the film. I also really enjoyed working with the director of the film, Ted Melfi. I wrote him a letter thanking him for trusting me with this project. 

Q: Was this experience a new world for you?

A: It’s for sure different than my day job. I’m a math professor at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Ga. My day, like many of us in academia, is full of teaching, grading papers, writing and replying to emails and research. I never thought I would say this, but after working as a math consultant for “Hidden Figures,” I now need a publicist to help with emails, scheduling and planning. Who would have thought?

Q: What does math mean to you – the rewards and the challenges – and its role in advancing technology?

A: I won’t lie, I love math. I’m not shy about that one. For me, if the movie helps to get more people interested in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), or the arts for that matter, I think it’s a good thing. I’m fortunate to be a professor who can guide students, so if I can get other people interested and willing to pursue education further that’s STEM-related, that’s a really good thing.

Q: What was it like working with professional actors who aren’t experts at math?

A: I primarily worked with them about formulas written on boards and in the background. I gave a lot of information that they could use. It was a really neat experience that I would do again. I was fortunate – everybody was really nice. I was there to do my part and I let them do their thing as the professionals – I was just there to make sure they were doing the math correctly. It was a good, collaborative effort. It’s in my nature to do this – I just stepped back after my part was done and let the professionals do their work.

Q: What do you hope comes from this film?

It seems that the movie has resonated with a lot of people on a lot of different levels. The fact that the movie was made on a $25 million budget and it’s already made more than $150 million domestically, says that there is an audience for it – I didn’t think it would be this big! 

I hope that the movie can inspire young and older folks – men and women – to want to learn more and understand the world we live in. Whether this is understanding climate change or other phenomena, I think if this movie can inspire this sort of pursuit, it’s a good thing.

You, too can become a Sooner success just like Dr. Horne! Prepare for success by earning an OU education and be open to possibilities you never considered. If you’re admitted and ready to join the OU Class of 2021, click here and commit by May 1. Curious about more Sooner stories? Read up here.