After America’s first woman in space retired from NASA, she had plenty of opportunities to capitalize on her celebrity, but she preferred to keep a low profile.
Then in 2001, while teaching physics at UC San Diego, Dr. Sally Ride decided the time was right to use her famous name for a cause she cared about — narrowing the gender gap in science and engineering. She would do it by cofounding a company called Sally Ride Science. Ride and her cofounders knew what research proved later, girls are easily disenfranchised from pursuing science because they don't think science is for girls.
“I felt that this was something that was really worth using my name and using the visibility that I could bring to it,” Ride said later. “It felt worthwhile.”
This year, as it celebrates its 20th anniversary, Sally Ride Science is carrying on the late astronaut’s educational legacy as part of UC San Diego. Under the direction of UC San Diego Extension, the former company is now a nonprofit offering innovative STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) programs for students, educators and the community. The program also hosts an annual Women in Leadership event.
Sally Ride Science Junior Academy, sallyridescience.ucsd.edu/junior-academy, opened for enrollments today. The summer academy provides STEAM remote, online workshops for students entering third-12th grade. During these workshops, students assume the roles of space explorer, marine biologist, computer programmer, and more as they immerse themselves in hands-on projects.
Sally Ride Science hosted the first Women in Leadership panel discussion in 2018 at UC San Diego’s Price Center to celebrate the release of the U.S. Postal Service’s Sally Ride stamp. Panelists at the annual event have included tennis great Billie Jean King, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former first daughter Chelsea Clinton. More than 250,000 people have viewed the events on UCTV. This year’s event will take place virtually and debut May 20.
After Ride blasted off aboard shuttle Challenger in 1983 to shatter NASA’s gender barrier, she realized her example was a powerful tool for inspiring young people, especially girls, in science. One of her goals in starting Sally Ride Science was to make sure girls and boys of all backgrounds could see role models who looked like them.
Founding the company was a team effort. Ride joined with her life partner, Tam O’Shaughnessy, who has a doctorate in school psychology, and three colleagues: Karen Flammer, a UC San Diego physicist; Terry McEntee, Ride’s longtime executive assistant; and Alann Lopes, a tech expert. Ride served as CEO, pitching investors and taking a hands-on role in all aspects of the company, which was based in La Jolla.
The response was gratifying. “When we started seeing the reaction of girls and their parents to our programs, it started feeding on itself, and we drew our energy and encouragement from them,” Ride said.
Over the years, Sally Ride Science created acclaimed STEM programs that reached students and educators across the country, and now the world with a switch to remote learning because of the pandemic.
Ride died of pancreatic cancer in 2012, and Sally Ride Science found a new home at UC San Diego in 2015. Extension's Dr. Edward Abeyta, associate dean for Education and Community Outreach, oversees Sally Ride Science programs, and her life partner Tam O’Shaughnessy serves as executive director.
"We're honored that UC San Diego continues to blaze trails in Sally Ride's name,” Abeyta said. “Her name is in the history books, but we're proud that she is also helping inspire the next generation of physicists, biologists, engineers and astronauts through Sally Ride Science programs offered at UC San Diego and globally online.”
To mark the 20th anniversary of Sally Ride Science, here’s a look at the impact of some of its key programs.
Sally Ride Science at UC San Diego Programs
Women in Leadership: Sally Ride Science will host its third Women in Leadership discussion virtually, debuting on May 20. The event honors the legacy of Sally Ride by bringing together a panel of trailblazers who have shattered barriers and paved the way for women across the globe. This year’s event will feature: Brittney Cooper, feminist scholar and author; Kathy Sullivan, distinguished scientist and astronaut; Maria Hinojosa, award-winning news anchor and reporter.
Sally Ride Science Junior Academy: Initiated and managed by UC San Diego Extension, the Junior Academy was launched in 2016. The annual summer program offers dozens of STEAM (STEM plus arts) workshops for elementary, middle school and high school students. Nearly 1,500 students have taken part, many of them on scholarships. The pandemic forced the academy to go online in 2020; this year’s academy, from July 12 to Aug. 6, will also be virtual.
Library NExT: Through a partnership between San Diego Public Library and Extension, Sally Ride Science presents free workshops in library branches around the city. The workshops started in 2017 in six library branches and gradually expanded to 23 branches before the program went online due to the pandemic. Nearly 4,500 students in grades 3-12 have taken part.
Online Teacher Training: Extension offers online professional development for educators based on curriculum developed by Sally Ride Science.
Partner programs: Programs with a variety of partners, including San Diego Unified School District, Fallbrook School of Arts and Southwestern College, have made Sally Ride Science workshops available to hundreds of students.
Sally Ride Science programs
Sally Ride EarthKAM: Ride started EarthKAM in 1995 to allow young people to share the learning experience of observing Earth from space. Under the NASA program, which is still going strong, students request images of specific places on Earth from a camera on the International Space Station. Sally Ride Science operated EarthKAM at UC San Diego until 2015, when the program moved to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. NASA says more than 600,000 students from 80 countries have taken part.
GRAIL MoonKAM: Sally Ride Science ran the educational outreach program for NASA’s 2012 GRAIL mission, which sent twin satellites to orbit the Moon and map its gravity, fulfilling more than 100,000 students' image requests along the way. At the end of the mission, NASA crashed the satellites into the Moon and named the impact site in honor of Ride, who had died five months earlier.
Books: Between 2004 and 2013, Sally Ride Science published 90 books, along with teacher guides, for upper elementary and middle school students on topics ranging from astronomy and STEM careers to climate change and sustainability.
Sally Ride Science Academy for educators: Starting in 2009, Sally Ride Science reached more than 30,000 teachers over five years.
Sally Ride Science Festivals: From 2001 to 2014, Sally Ride Science hosted more than 100 festivals on college campuses across the country, including UC San Diego.
TOYchallenge: In 2002, Sally Ride Science created a national engineering design competition where student teams, which had to be at least 50 percent girls.