March 29, 2022

Before Sally Ride blasted off to become America’s first woman in space, she was an accomplished tennis player who considered turning pro in the sport. To honor Ride’s legacy as an athlete and a scientist, the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) has announced it will present the Sally Ride STEM Award to a female college tennis player embarking on postgraduate studies in science or engineering.

Sally Ride was nationally ranked as a junior tennis player.

The first winner of the award will receive $8,000 to pursue her dreams. In addition, the ITA will donate $2,000 to the women’s tennis program at the recipient’s college. Nominations for the ITA Sally Ride STEM Award are being accepted now, with a deadline of April 18.

The award is endowed by Ride’s life partner, Tam O’Shaughnessy, a former professional tennis player. After Ride retired from NASA and became a physics professor at UC San Diego, she joined with O’Shaughnessy to found Sally Ride Science in order to inspire girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). Today O’Shaughnessy serves as executive director of Sally Ride Science, now based at UC San Diego.

“Sally would be thrilled to have this ITA award named after her,” O’Shaughnessy said. “Sally loved sports (especially tennis) and science (especially physics) her whole life. This award combines sports and science – a perfect match! Sally would love that each year a student-athlete who also loves tennis and science is supported in her dreams.”

Dr. Timothy Russell, CEO of the ITA, welcomed the new award program. “College tennis is a pathway to success in life and includes so much of what makes America and higher education remarkable,” he said. “Sally Ride embodied all that is great about our country and our sport, as does Tam O’Shaughnessy. Tam’s thoughtful and generous gift elevates the ITA’s comprehensive awards program and will inspire our future ITA female student-scholar-athletes to reach for the stars.”

Ride’s life partner, Tam O’Shaughnessy, endowed the ITA Sally Ride STEM Award.

Ride was completing her doctorate in physics at Stanford when she applied to NASA’s astronaut corps. She was among the first six women chosen for the program, and she was the first assigned to a shuttle crew. But her historic spaceflight represented just one aspect of a remarkable and multi-faceted life. As a junior tennis player, she was ranked nationally, and she played No. 1 on Stanford’s Women’s Tennis Team.

Ride, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2012, has received many honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. The U.S. Postal Service released a Sally Ride Forever stamp in 2018, and the U.S. Mint recently issued a Dr. Sally Ride coin as part of the American Women Quarters (AWQ) Program.


The ITA Sally Ride STEM Award aims to recognize a scholar-athlete who has exhibited zeal, dedication and perseverance toward her tennis competition, STEM studies and long-term goals.

An applicant must be a U.S. citizen who has graduated from a four-year American college or university and has lettered at least two years on the school’s varsity tennis team. Applicants must have majored in biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, computer science or engineering with a grade point average of at least 3.5 and must be accepted into a U.S. university graduate program in a STEM field.


  • Applicants must submit an essay of no more than 1,000 words outlining the role that tennis and higher education have played in their life, the lessons learned, the role and impact of a STEM education, and a description of the candidate’s plans for graduate study, describing hopes and dreams to be pursued.
  • Initial letters of support for the nomination must be submitted by the candidate’s varsity tennis coach and a college STEM professor.
  • Finalists for the award may be asked to submit a letter of support from their college’s president.

To nominate a candidate, send the required materials in one email to Rachel Dagen (