Sally Ride: Astronaut Urges Girls to Pursue Science

Her focus on inspiring young women makes her one of America's Best Leaders.

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As the first American woman in space, Sally Ride, 58, excelled in an aerospace community dominated by men. In 2001, 18 years after her historic flight, she founded Sally Ride Science, which fosters interest in math and science among fifth- to ninth-grade students, especially girls. Ride spoke recently with U.S. News. Excerpts:

What are the qualities that characterize a good leader?

Willingness to listen; an appreciation for the importance of teamwork and knowing when to lead that team and when to listen to the other members of the team. It's important to be decisive when decisions are required but to deliberate appropriately while making those decisions.

When you joined NASA, were there differences in how you saw men perceived versus women?

Back when our group of astronauts joined the astronaut corps and came to NASA, we started work at the Johnson Space Center and, out of 4,000 science and engineering professionals at the space center, there were four or five women. It was a culture that did not know how to work with women on a day-to-day, professional level. That was a cultural adjustment that in some cases is still going on.

What inspired you to start a company that focused on females in science?

I discovered that there were still significant societal stereotypes and peer-group pressure that start to affect girls in upper elementary school through middle school in such a way that they start to drift away from math and science. So I realized that there was a lot that could be gained by targeting that particular age.