Since we launched 100 Women Leaders in STEM at the U.S. News STEM Solutions Summit in June of 2012, it has been such a pleasure to learn more about these extraordinary women as we dubbed them "STEM Woman Leader of the Day" here on the blog and on Twitter. We've learned about their thoughts on how we can assure more women in STEM, STEM initiatives they are proud of, and the role senior leaders play in advancing STEM. We also asked the 100 Women who their STEM role model is, and one name jumped to the top of their lists: Dr. Sally Ride. We are extremely honored to have Dr. Sally Ride as a part of 100 Women Leaders in STEM and for the opportunity to do a Q&A with her before she lost her battle to pancreatic cancer on July 23rd of this year. It's only fitting that Dr. Ride complete this blog series, and we cannot thank her enough for inspiring so many women to pursue STEM careers. Without futher ado, here's Dr. Ride's 100 Women Leaders in STEM profile!
"Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, started Sally Ride Science
in 2001 to inspire young people—especially girls—to stick with their interest in science and to consider pursuing careers in science and engineering. She served as CEO of the company until her death on July 23, 2012, after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer.
Sally was finishing her Ph.D. in physics at Stanford University in 1977 when she answered a NASA newspaper ad seeking astronaut candidates. When she blasted off aboard the space shuttle Challenger on June 18, 1983, she became the first American woman—and, at 32, the youngest American—in space. Sally's historic flight made her a symbol of the ability of women to break barriers and a hero to generations of adventurous young girls. She flew on Challenger again in 1984 and later was the only person to serve on both panels investigating the nation's space shuttle disasters—the Challenger explosion in 1986 and the breakup of the shuttle Columbia on reentry in 2003.
After retiring from NASA, Sally became a physics professor and an award-winning author of science books for children. She used her high profile to champion a cause she cared about passionately—igniting students' enthusiasm for science and piquing their interest in careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. At Sally Ride Science, she guided the creation of innovative classroom programs, classroom materials, and professional development programs for teachers and students." -Biography from Sally Ride Science.
Why do you believe STEM Education and Workforce are important to our nation?
In today’s global environment, it’s an economic imperative that STEM learning is a priority in our nation’s schools. A strong STEM foundation gives students the skills and knowledge they need to compete on an international level, as well as to be a productive citizen in a democracy.
Most important, STEM is where the jobs are. Change the Equation’s Vital Signs report, “STEM Help Wanted,”
paints a bright picture for individuals with a STEM background. An analysis of online job postings and unemployment data found that across the STEM fields, job postings outnumbered unemployed people by almost 2-to-1. And the forecast for job growth in STEM is strong.
By showing students that STEM is creative, collaborative, fascinating, and fun, we can inspire them to think about their future and better prepare them to pursue a wide range of exciting opportunities.
What traits do senior leaders need to effectively support and advance STEM today?
Effectively supporting and advancing STEM requires leaders who are not afraid of making bold decisions. Leadership is about passion, an uncompromising vision, and a yearning to continually improve. This includes a vision of what is required to prepare the workforce of the future. The most effective STEM leaders not only envision what our schools can be, but actually transform that unique vision into a reality by promoting high expectations and creating structures that promote effective STEM teaching and learning.
What can we do to assure more women leaders in STEM?
Scientists and engineers are often portrayed as geeky Einstein look-alikes, and our culture still leads too many girls think science is hard and not cool—and not for them. Unfortunately, perceptions can become reality, and that’s why I have devoted my life to getting young people, especially girls, excited about science. The stakes could hardly be higher. Our country needs a new generation of visionary scientists and innovators to ensure our future prosperity. Half a century ago, President Kennedy rallied the nation around “one of the great adventures of all time,” the race to send an American to the moon. That effort inspired a generation, including me, to see an exciting future for ourselves in science. We need today’s leaders to rally our women leaders of tomorrow.
Of what one initiative you are most proud?
While being the first American woman to fly in space was an amazing experience that has allowed me to be a role model to many young girls, I am most proud of the Sally Ride Science Academy. Through the support of ExxonMobil, we provide professional development for 4th-8th grade teachers to give them the tools they can easily take back to their classrooms and more effectively ignite students' interests in STEM.
Teachers are invaluable assets who encourage students to study hard, believe in themselves and reach for the stars. I fondly remember my 8th grade teachers and the hopes and dreams I had for the future. It was a time when science was a national priority, and the space race was exciting and inspirational. The Sally Ride Science Academy aims to capture that excitement and inspire today’s teachers to improve learning so that all students have a chance to fulfill their dreams.