100 Women Leaders in STEM

I was honored yesterday as one of the 100 Women Leaders in STEM at an event held at the Hart Senate Office Building here in Washington, DC, just up the road from NASA Headquarters. Some of the other honorees included Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, founder and CEO of The Conrad Foundation Nancy Conrad and Marion Blakey, the President and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association. All these amazing women came together to talk about one thing: how we get more young women involved in science, technology, engineering and math.

NASA has a unique role in STEM. We are a beacon to the next generation, inspiring them to pursue STEM in school and as a career. And we are an employer. We provide the pipeline for students and young professionals. And we need those students to fill the jobs we offer. Our investments in STEM are not simply theoretical – we are looking for the people who will build the rocket ships and satellites of tomorrow.

STEM jobs bring so much to our nation. Regardless of whether they are in the field of space, aviation, clean energy, health or manufacturing, STEM jobs are high-tech, high-paying jobs. They contribute to our national economy and help us maintain global leadership. It is critical that we encourage students to study and go into STEM fields, and it is especially critical that we encourage girls to pursue STEM careers.

I was inspired by Dr. Sally Ride, who was a professional and personal role model to me. Sally was not only the first American woman to fly in space, she was also the youngest. Sally’s first Shuttle flight was the first space flight I paid any attention to. I think that was true for a lot of girls my age; I’ve heard the rest of her crew say they got used to being known as the “six guys who flew with Sally Ride.” Her inspiration will live on, and I hope that we will live up to her example to keep finding ways to encourage girls in STEM fields. Today, in a classroom somewhere in America, is a child who will one day walk on Mars. When she does, it will be in part because of the women honored yesterday who, like Sally Ride, are committed to ensuring that girls find ways into science, technology, engineering and math.