First American woman in space promotes careers in science

Wed Mar 10, 2010 12:19pm EST
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By Ros Krasny

BOSTON (Reuters Life!) - American physicist Sally Ride achieved lasting fame in June 1983 when she became the first American woman to travel in space as a crew member of the Space Shuttle Challenger.

After leaving NASA Ride became a physics professor at the University of California San Diego, and is now president of Sally Ride Science, a company dedicated to helping teachers raise students' interest in science.

Ride, 58, spoke to Reuters after appearing at a round-table discussion in Boston on gender equity and educating girls in the areas of math, science and engineering.

Q. Surveys show that about two-thirds of American girls in the fourth grade say they "like science." But the numbers fall off steadily from there. What is going wrong?

A. "There are a lot of very subtle -- and some not so subtle -- messages that make girls not want to go into science. There are rather important stereotypes that society implants in our children at a young age.

"If you Google for pictures of scientists you get a page of geeky guys who look like Einstein. There's no 11-year-old girl who aspires to that.

"The message that our culture sends to kids is that science isn't cool, that science is really hard. In 5th and 6th grade kids start to internalize that. Everyone wants to be normal at that age. It's very important to counter those messages, and to make the teachers aware of this too. Often teachers don't realize how pervasive the messages are."

Q. Since 1970 the percentage of women in medical school and law school has risen toward gender equity. But women are still a rarity in engineering and many scientific disciplines.   Continued...

<p>Former shuttle astronaut Sally Ride (R) is congratulated by former Apollo 13 Commander James Lovell (L) after being inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame in Titusville, Florida on June 21, 2003 file photo. REUTERS/Charles W. Luzier</p>