Editor’s Note: This is part of our ongoing look at the lack of female representation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. See all posts related to this project here.

(Credit: Sally Ride Science)

Aboard the International Space Station sits the Sally Ride EarthKAM, managed by Sally Ride Science since 2005 — a camera system that allows students the unique opportunity to take pictures of our planet from the comfort of their classrooms.

It’s the sort of program the education initiative loves to offer, as it engages both teachers and students in the process of learning in STEM. Matt Casper, the company’s director of marketing, says, “that’s the mission here – to equip educators and keep kids excited.”

Famed astronaut, physicist and female STEM pioneer Dr. Sally Ride — also the first American woman in space — founded Sally Ride Science in 2001. Her eponymous effort, based in San Diego, is a for-profit company that sells educational materials and coordinates programs designed to keep pre-teens and young teenagers engaged in STEM by changing the way the subjects are taught.

Though Ride passed away in 2012, the company continues its work in her honor, with special attention paid to increasing representation for girls and women (as well as racial and ethnic minorities) in STEM. On a basic level, the company makes sure its learning aids depict a diverse range of people.

“A lot of times, when you envision a scientist, you picture an old white man in a lab coat,” Casper says. “In our materials, you’ll see an African-American woman working with robots, or a Latina woman working near a volcano. They show a wide array of men and women working a wide array of jobs.”

Dr. Sally Ride. (Credit: Sally Ride Science)
Dr. Sally Ride. (Credit: Sally Ride Science)

There are several girls-only Sally Ride Science Camps run by partner organization Education Unlimited. They specifically cater to girls in grades 4 through 9. Also, Sally Ride Science Festivals — where girls and boys alike can partake in STEM-related projects, experiments and more — are hosted throughout the country, thanks to the help of corporate sponsors like ExxonMobil.

And earlier this year, Sally Ride Science announced a partnership with Million Women Mentors that’s “designed to unite more than 1 million girls and young women with STEM professionals and leaders.”

In addition, the company has gender-neutral offerings for students, as well as professional development programs for educators looking to more effectively teach STEM subjects.

Sally Ride Science ultimately hopes to plug the leak in the education pipeline that allows for a drop-off in student interest in STEM between elementary and high school. Casper says, “as Sally Ride herself liked to say, the challenge isn’t getting kids interested — it’s keeping them interested.”

And in the eyes of the company, it harms us all if we don’t encourage interests in these subjects.

As Casper said, “For a lot of [STEM] jobs in the United States now, companies are looking elsewhere. We peaked as a country about 30 years ago, scientifically, and we’re playing catch up.”

For a List of All Project Posts: The Story Exchange on STEM Entrepreneurship