UCSD Partners with Sally Ride Science

Sally Ride Science, the scientific, technological, engineering and medical education-focused corporation co-founded by the first American woman in space, became official partners with UCSD Extension, Scripps Institute of Oceanography and the San Diego Supercomputer Center on Oct. 1.

Dr. Karen Flammer, co-founder and Director of Education for Sally Ride Science and the SDSC, explained to the UCSD Guardian that the company was created with the goal of making STEM education more inclusive for adolescents, targeting the lesser-represented females as well as young people of color and from underprivileged areas.

“Our mission and focus has always been to widen the pipeline [and] get more students, more diversity and more girls in STEM,” Flammer said. “We’ve always targeted upper-elementary and middle school-grade students.”

Co-founder and current CEO of the company Tam O’Shaughnessy described to the Guardian how what she called a “perfect partner[ship]” was born.

“We decided we wanted to find a good parent company that would help us grow and also bring in fresh insight and brain [power],” said O’Shaughnessy, who was Ride’s life partner. “Immediately after I became CEO [about 2 years ago], I began talking to business leaders and a few nonprofits about a merger or an acquisition. About six months ago, the idea of UCSD came to mind … [and] it just seemed like a match made in heaven.”

Director of UCSD K-16 Programs and Assistant Dean for Community Engagement and Director, Pre-Collegiate and Career Preparation Programs Edward Abeyta told the Guardian the goals for UCSD Extension in relation to the new partnership mirror those of Sally Ride Science.

“One [goal] is to honor Sally Ride, foremost in our overall objective because she [supported] women in general,” Abeyta said. “She was [the] first female and youngest American astronaut to go into space. [Our] second goal is to deliver and sustain a program model with Sally Ride Science. We want to inspire teachers and create the next generation of learners and girls, provide educational access to other teachers and communities … and have … a model we can showcase globally.”

Working with UCSD will not alter the company’s goals, but profits from the books and guides developed through the partnership will go to the university, according to O’Shaughnessy.

“Basically, UCSD has acquired the assets of Sally Ride Science,” O’Shaughnessy said. “What we have created over the years is around 100 science books and career books for kids in elementary and middle school. We also created comprehensive teacher guides that go with the books [in addition to] teacher training. So we have curriculum to engage girls and boys in science and math — how to make it interesting and inspiring, how to teach it based on current research. Everything we’ve created and that we’re so proud of now belongs to UCSD.”

Flammer and O’Shaughnessy discussed the importance of having outreach programs for underrepresented adolescents beyond the opportunities the company is trying to equalize as technical jobs increase into the future.

“There are not enough students right now graduating with STEM backgrounds to fill the protected jobs out there,” Flammer noted. “Engineering companies, tech companies, they know there will be an increase in technical jobs. There aren’t enough students in this country to fill them. Get the underrepresented minorities filled, get young girls in science.”

O’Shaughnessy explained that the demand of the job market is consistent with the disparity of gender, background and more.

“In engineering, computer science and physics, there are still way too few women and people of color involved,” O’Shaughnessy said. “What the research shows is that it’s mostly a cultural phenomenon. There is a lack of encouraging girls and people of color to be involved to be in [STEM]. I think working with our partners at UCSD, we can continue to change perceptions of who makes a good scientist and a computer scientist and an engineer. It can be anybody.”

To support this belief, Sally Ride Science has plans to collaborate with UCTV and an event with SDSC celebrating professional women in STEM. Future projects include incorporating UCSD students into outreach programs with young girls and people of color.

O’Shaughnessy is hopeful for the future and expects such events to have results in line with what her lifelong partner Sally Ride fought to achieve before her passing in 2012.

“All kids deserve to be scientifically literate, tech literate, math literate because the jobs out there today and especially in the future demand a solid background in those areas,” O’Shaughnessy told the Guardian. “We really, as a society, want to make sure kids are prepared to have a good future. And of course, math and science are very involved in innovation. We want to make sure as a country, we’re always innovating, always doing good things.”