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Sally Ride Wants To Help Your Daughter Love Science!
By Lynette Lamb and Dr. Tam O'Shaughnessey

When Sally Ride was a young girl, her parents had no idea she would be America's first woman astronaut. What they did know was that she was fascinated by science. Neither of them was a scientist, but both were committed to encouraging her interests, no matter where they led. Today, she gives much of the credit for her career to the support her parents provided. They may not have taught her any science, but they made all the difference.

"The most important thing parents can do is provide encouragement and support for girls," says Ride. "If they're interested in science, help them understand that there are good opportunities open to them, that lots of women pursue those opportunities, and they should do so too."

She's certainly right about the job opportunities. According to the latest statistics, in just six years there will be 5.6 million more jobs requiring math and science skills. Of the 10 fastest growing occupations, 8 are science-, math-, or technology-related.

Although women still make up less than a quarter of the science, engineering and technology workforce, there are many more women in these jobs than there were 30 years ago. The continuing question, says Ride, is why we haven't progressed further.

In her view, the principal reasons for this lack of progress are the subtle and not-so-subtle stereotypes presented to girls, which dissuade them from following science and technology career paths. "They still don't see the role models in the media, though they're out there," says Ride. "Until we reach a critical mass of women in these fields, society won't see science jobs as viable ones for women."

Encouraging girls to see those role models and follow their interests is important, both for their development, so that they maintain their curiosity and confidence, and for their professional lives—so that they have the opportunities and choices that match their dreams, says Ride.

School is one place where it's vital that a girl be encouraged. Make sure her teachers urge girls to be interested in technical fields, celebrate the contributions of important women scientists, display images of female role models, and select images and descriptions that reflect the experiences of girls. Two high school teachers, of chemistry and physiology, were Ride's chief childhood mentors, she says. "They gave me the confidence I needed to get ahead."

Now Ride wants to play a role in supporting today's girls in science. To do so, she recently founded the Sally Ride Science Club (, a national association for middle school-aged girls. The clubs are intended to keep girls engaged in science adventures by connecting them to people, information, and attitudes that will nurture their relationship with science at this critical time in their lives. They are organized through Imaginary Lines Inc., which also provides information for parents on its web site, and organizes middle-school science festivals for girls around the country. A recent festival in Phoenix drew 800 attendees. Imaginary Lines has also teamed with Space Camp to offer parent-daughter weekend camps for girls ages 7 through 11. Girls and their parents explore human space flight and experience astronaut training in simulators like those used by NASA.

While she was growing up, Sally Ride gained confidence in her abilities and was encouraged to follow her dreams. Now she's helping other girls to get interested in science, empowering them to "reach for the stars."

© 2001 Dads and Daughters, From Daughters: For Parents of Girls,
Duluth, MN This and other articles on raising healthy girls are available online at


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