WASHINGTON -- Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, is using her notoriety to promote U.S. science and engineering education. Ride also wants more women to pursue careers in engineering. This is a good thing since the profession needs all the new blood and fresh ideas it can get.
"When I was a girl, I had a teacher who encouraged my interest in science," Ride recalls. "She helped build my self-confidence. All these things helped me to become a scientist and and astronaut."
While studying physics at Stanford University in the 1970s, Ride says she still remembers the day NASA ran an ad in the student newspaper seeking astronaut candidates. She made it into Earth orbit aboard the shuttle Challenger in June 1983.
Among Ride's engineering initiatives is the Sally Ride Science Academy. Three academies are underway this summer, including one this week in the Washington, DC, area.
Here's a link to the astronaut's Web site, Sally Ride Science.
Raising awareness of the importance of science and engineering education is laudable. There are many similar efforts around the country -- EE Times is a media sponsor for the inaugural USA Science and Engineering Festival on the Mall in Washington in October. But one reality is that it took an earth-shaking event -- the launch of Sputnik by the Soviet Union on 1957 -- to reinvigorate American science and engineering education.
Ride recently appeared on a radio talk show to promote her engineering education initiative. At least one female engineering student called in to say she was not optimistic about finding a job. This is another reality: Many U.S. companies, including technology companies, have chosen to sit on huge piles of cash rather than investing it in new engineering talent. This short-sighted gimmick for propping up company stock prices (and executives' stock option portfolios) is delaying an economic recovery and harming U.S. competitiveness.
We continue to support any and all efforts to promote U.S. science and engineering education. Technology companies should do the same, preferably with cash and new hires.