Tam on STEAM

In 2001, I joined with pioneering astronaut Sally Ride, along with Karen Flammer and two other friends, to co-found a science education company. We called it Sally Ride Science. Our mission? To encourage young people—especially girls—to stick with science as they go through school.

Why is this so important?

Science and technology play a larger role in our daily lives than ever before. We need to make sure all students are literate in science, math, and technology so they can make informed decisions about their lives—their health, their communities, and our planet.

Most jobs today, even basic-wage jobs, require solid math and science skills. We need to prepare students for their future jobs. Eighty percent of the fastest growing occupations in the U.S. require knowledge and skills in math and science. Our future engineers, software developers, and data scientists need these skills. Yet the workforce in these crucial jobs does not reflect who we are in America. Women make up 50% of the U.S. workforce. But in STEM fields, just 28% of the workers are women. [1] Historically underrepresented groups—Hispanics, blacks, American Indians and Alaskan Natives—make up 26% of the U.S. adult population. But they account for only 10% of the workers in STEM jobs. [1]

Science advances and grows only when people from all parts of our society contribute. Each scientist brings a unique perspective to the field, and each perspective is important. We face huge challenges—where will we get enough sustainable energy? How will we curb emissions of greenhouse gases? How can we contain disease epidemics? The solutions will come from science. And we need to make sure we are tapping the talents and creativity of women and men from all backgrounds. We need to open science, technology, engineering, and math to as many students as possible.

For some perspective, look at this table of college degrees from 1970 to today.


Percentage of Women
Law school 5% (1970) 47% (2013) [2]
Business school 4% (1970) 38% (2015) [3]
Medical school 8% (1970) 48% (2014) [4]
Engineering (B.S. degree) <1% (1970) 20% (2014) [5]

The percentages have gone up significantly over the years.

There’s a similar story in sports.

Percentage of girls involved
in high school sports
4% (1970) 42% (2014) [6]

In 1970, many people believed that girls and women were not interested in law, business, medicine, or engineering—or in sports.

But, in fact, girls and women were always interested. As societal norms changed and stereotypes slowly dissolved, girls and women had more opportunities. More of them jumped at the chance to play sports or to pursue careers in male-dominated fields.

Some fields, such as engineering and physics, started from very, very low percentages. In 1970, less than 1% of engineers were women.

Today women receive:
• 20% of engineering B.S. degrees [5]
• 19% of physics B.S. degrees [7]
• 18% of computer science B.S. degrees [8]

That’s an enormous increase in only four decades, but we still need to encourage more girls and women and students of color to pursue engineering, computer science, and physics.

On October 1, 2015, Sally Ride Science became part of UC San Diego. We are excited to continue our mission with the help of our new partners: UCSD Extension; UCTV; Scripps Institution of Oceanography; and the San Diego Supercomputer Center. And every month, I’ll track relevant developments in science here.


[1] National Science Board, Science and Engineering Indicators, 2014
[2] American Bar Association, Commission on Women (graduated)
[3] Graduate Management Admission Council (enrolled MBAs)
[4] Association of American Medical College (graduated)
[5] The National Academies Sciences, Engineering, Medicine; Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine (graduated)
[6] National Federation of State High School Associations
[7] American Physical Society (graduated)
[8] Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering, 2015    

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