Everybody knows the marque items in her biography; a doctorate degree in physics; NASA scientist; educator; and the first U. S. woman to orbit the Earth, but Sally Ride was so much more. Ride passed away Monday at age 61. Her NASA biography page lists an unusual array of interests. She was a tennis instructor and achieved national ranking as a junior. She also enjoyed running, volleyball, softball & stamp collecting. Intriguing as these asides may be, according to her bio, Ride’s greatest avocation was the pursuit of her “long-time passion of motivating girls and young women to pursue careers in science, math and technology. The company creates entertaining science programs and publications for upper elementary and middle school students and their parents and teachers.”
Ride was also a very successful author having written five science books for children: To Space and Back; Voyager; The Third Planet; The Mystery of Mars; and Exploring Our Solar System. She was also committed to several educational projects designed to prompt middle school students’ fascination with science.
As above, Ride had a life devoted to breaking down false barriers. A NASA gallery (http://www.nasa.gov/externalflash/ride_gallery/) about her states, “On June 18, 1983, NASA astronaut Sally Ride broke through the ultimate glass ceiling, blasting into orbit on the shuttle Challenger as part of the crew of mission STS-7. Since her history-making flight, 39 female NASA astronauts have followed her into space, including shuttle commanders and an International Space Station commander.”
Ride gave countless young women the reassurance that STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math) were not the exclusive purview of men. Whether male or female, increased STEM enrollment is necessity if the U. S. is to retain its global stature. According to the Digest of Education Statistics a publication of the National Center for Education Statistics, “In 2001, there were slightly more than 4 million 9th graders. Four years later, 2.8 million graduated and 1.9 million went on to two and four year college; only 1.3 million were actually ready for college work. Fewer than 300,000 are majoring in STEM fields and only about 167,000 [were] STEM college graduates [in] 2011.”
While attrition is to be expected, this severe winnowing is far too great. The enthusiastic support of numerous organizations and agencies attests to the importance of the mission.
In 2005, three preeminent U.S. scientific groups; the National Academy of Science; the National Academy of Engineering; and the Institute of Medicine, jointly issued a report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. This document was a clarion for strengthening the STEM pipeline from primary through postsecondary education. The joint report recommended increasing investment in STEM programs, enhancing the STEM teaching force, and enlarging the pool of students pursuing degrees and careers in STEM fields. Since the publication of this influential report, both the Government Accountability Office and the U. S. Department of Education have issued similar policy recommendations. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation projects that by 2014 there will be 2 million new STEM related jobs in the U. S. Understanding this, the old familiar question comes to the fore: what if you gave a party and nobody came? Rest assured, they will come, only the celebrations will be in India, China and Korea unless we get right… and quickly.
Lately we have trumpeted the cause of education, here in Pine Bluff. As we pause to honor Sally Ride, we can think of no greater tribute than redoubled efforts in the subjects she championed.