It was an exciting moment when on June 18th, thirty-five years ago, Dr. Sally Ride, the first American woman was launched into space on the Challenger space shuttle.
In the years to come, Ride noticed a shift in the opportunities for young girls and women in studying Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) but something was dolefully missing. When Ride and her life partner, Tam O’Shaughnessy visited bookstores and found out that there were very few non-fiction kid’s books about science or scientists and even fewer on women in science and after elementary school, girls would move away from science and math in numbers higher than boys do. The reasons were cultural or societal and had nothing to do with interest or ability or capacity. By the early 2000s, Ride was more drawn towards entrepreneurship and wanted to address the lack of education for girls in the STEM. Finally, she decided to start a business in solving the problem.
Reid Hoffman defines an entrepreneur to be someone who will jump off a cliff and assemble an airplane on the way down, and that is precisely what Ride did. She started it by finding the right partners first. In the late 1990s, Ride and O’Shaughnessy convened the leading minds in STEM education from across the country to understand the problems faced by women in science. They also started writing children’s science books, and Ride began to work on the EarthKAM project with NASA enabling middle school children to learn about space from a camera on the space shuttle. Convinced of the events, Ride, O’Shaughnessy and three academics from EarthKAM –found a company to address young girls, science, and gender stereotypes. They first established the business with the name, “Imaginary Lines.”
In 2001, the first round of angel funding raised was just under $1 million; it became clear to them they had a long uphill to climb. Finally, listening to the strategic business advisors, the team decided to come up with a new name for the company and, Sally Ride Science, Inc. was born. It proved to be a game changer, and they were now able to get sponsorships for their science programs for young women from such diverse organizations.
Building an education company required multiple revenue streams. From selling books online to getting corporate sponsorship for teacher training, the business pushed its founders to step out of their comfort zone and do things they had never done before. Sally learned and developed sales skills and made the venture successful. She thrived on challenges and being a leader came naturally to her.
Sally Ride passed away in 2012, but her legacy lives on. Now a nonprofit, Sally Ride Science at UC San Diego continues its mission to inspire girls and boys of all backgrounds to study science and imagine themselves in science and technology careers. Sally’s legacy will also include encouraging and supporting future generations of women and men to become scientists. Sally Ride was a quiet person, but a fierce leader.