Above: Terry McEntee (left) joined fellow Sally Ride Science founders Tam O’Shaughnessy (center) and Karen Flammer at the commissioning of the Navy research vessel Sally Ride in 2016.
Terry McEntee, who joined with America’s first woman in space and three other friends to found Sally Ride Science and later helped organize more than 100 science festivals to inspire girls in STEM, has died.
According to her husband, Keith Allred, McEntee died Jan. 9 at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo. She had been battling a recurrence of breast cancer.
“Terry was a beloved friend, founder and member of the Sally Ride Science family,” said Tam O’Shaughnessy, Sally Ride’s life partner and executive director of Sally Ride Science at UC San Diego. “She was instrumental in establishing the widely acclaimed Sally Ride Science Festivals – one-day events held across the country to spark students’ interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).”
McEntee, who started as an administrative assistant to Ride, became a trusted friend and indispensable colleague – Ride’s “right-hand person,” in the words of the late astronaut’s sister, Bear Ride.
Sally Ride broke NASA’s gender barrier in 1983 when she blasted off aboard space shuttle Challenger. After retiring from the astronaut corps, she became a physics professor at UC San Diego. There she started EarthKAM, a NASA outreach program that allows students all over the world to request images of specific places on Earth from a camera on the International Space Station.
McEntee, who had worked as a program representative for several UC San Diego departments, joined Ride at EarthKAM in 1995. McEntee helped coordinate the thousands of students taking part in EarthKAM missions as well as a large team of UC San Diego undergraduates who maintained the program’s mission control center.
Meanwhile, Ride and O’Shaughnessy were becoming increasingly concerned about the poor representation of women in science and engineering. They believed girls drifted away from these fields in part because of negative stereotypes and a lack of female role models.
In 2001, Ride and O’Shaughnessy got together with McEntee and two other friends who shared their concerns – UC San Diego physicist Karen Flammer and computer scientist Alann Lopes. The five decided to start a company called Sally Ride Science to promote diversity in STEM fields.
“Sally first got the idea for the company,” McEntee recalled later. “Then we all sat around the table throwing out ideas, and it turned into what it is today.”
Ride served as CEO of the company until her death from pancreatic cancer in 2012. In 2015, Sally Ride Science joined UC San Diego and became a nonprofit under the direction of UC San Diego Extension.
Festivals with a purpose
At Sally Ride Science, McEntee assisted Bear Ride in coordinating science festivals on college campuses around the country. “She was lovingly known as the deputy guru of Sally Ride Science Festivals,” Bear Ride said. McEntee helped create a vision of a science festival that was fun, engaging and rich with impressive female role models – from professors and physicians to engineers and computer scientists.
Over 15 years, Sally Ride Science held more than 100 science festivals. The events were aimed primarily at middle school girls, but boys and younger students also attended.
At each festival, students and their parents or teachers would wander through a colorful street fair where a DJ blasted the latest pop music and STEM organizations and companies hosted booths with fun activities. Then students would line up behind guides called “mother ducks” who led them to classrooms for hands-on STEM workshops. Finally students would attend a keynote talk from a female astronaut, engineer or oceanographer.
O’Shaughnessy noted that most festivals drew around 1,000 students, parents and teachers. Their smooth functioning was a tribute to McEntee’s organizational abilities. “They were massive logistical feats,” O’Shaughnessy said. “No child was ever lost!”
McEntee will be deeply missed by her Sally Ride Science colleagues, O’Shaughnessy said. “Terry and her husband, Keith, were generous friends who hosted the Sally Ride Science annual holiday party in their home for many years,” she said, adding that they could even be counted on to provide loving care for the dogs of colleagues who were away on business or vacation.