Sally Ride and Science

Sally RideCNN ran a nice interview with Dr. Sally Ride called Ride urges emphasis on math, science studies. In 1983, Dr. Ride became the first American woman to travel in space as a crew member of the Space Shuttle Challenger. From this interview:

Q: Girls are discouraged? That sounds so 1970s.

A: There was a 2001 study that showed in fourth grade, 68% of boys and 66% of girls like science. Starting in sixth, seventh and eighth grade, we lose girls and boys, but we lose more girls and for different reasons: lingering stereotypes, societal pressures. It’s well known that many girls have a tendency to dumb down when they’re in middle school. Just last week, I was talking to senior executives, and a woman told me that she was the best biology student in high school and had the highest exam scores. At the end of the semester, a teacher told her: “I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to give the award in biology to a boy, because it’s more important to him.” Almost every time that I give a speech or meet with a group of women, I’ll hear such stories.

Q: Boys earn 70% of the D’s and F’s in school and account for 80% of dropouts. Shouldn’t we fear more for their future?

A: It’s a big problem. Women earn the majority of undergraduate degrees in the U.S. and last year earned more Ph.D.s than men. But keeping girls in the science and math pipeline is a separate problem with different causes. It’s important we address both. You don’t stop research on breast cancer just because heart disease is also deadly. You work on both.

The Mother Nature Network also had a great (if short) interview with Dr. Ride. The article is called First U.S. woman in space promotes careers in science. From the article (no longer online):

What kind of jobs in science are likely to lure young women — and young men for that matter?

The generation growing up today is very interested in the issues of climate change and energy. Girls and boys, 8, 10, 12 years of age, are so interested. It’s palpable; they’re driving the rest of us along.

So far, we haven’t done a good job at linking that interest to work in science, technology and engineering, where kids could have a huge impact. It’s a matter of making that connection — that science can help solve those problems.

Here’s a link to her work, Sally Ride Science.