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Sally Ride Speaks on Women and Science at Convocation

Mills shares a common goal of helping women succeed in the sciences, said Convocation speaker Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, who also helped out the Groundbreaking Ceremony for the new Natural Sciences Building.

Introducing Ride at Convocation on Sept. 30, President Janet L. Holmgren called her “the woman who bridges the world of academic and political activism.”

In her speech, Ride described her own educational experiences in math and science to encourage young women to enter into those fields. She described “Imaginary Lines,” the program she created for middle school girls interested in science.

“I really believe I’ve got a shared mission with you at Mills to get girls to enter into the sciences,” Ride told the audience. She attended an all-girls high school in Los Angeles, and said that it “gives you confidence to go on to do whatever you do.” She said that Mills retains far more of its science students than the average university, and that the students provide strong role models for young girls.

After her speech at Convocation, Ride stood beside Holmgren to perform the Groundbreaking Ceremony for the new Natural Sciences Building. Onlookers applauded as they scooped up soil with golden shovels wrapped with blue lace.

Ride said that she was more famous than her male coworkers during the first flight because she was the first woman to go into space.

“A woman sat down at our table at a restaurant after my first flight and told me that she had a 5-year-old son who just discovered the space program. She said that he burst out crying when the shuttle took off and asked if little boys could grow up to be astronauts too,” Dr. Ride said, to thunderous applause from Mills students, professors, alumnae and visiting parents.

After she went into space, Ride said the percentage of NASA women gradually increased. For the last five years, at least one woman has been onboard every shuttle mission.

Ride, who graduated from Stanford University with a Masters Degree and PhD in Physics, found an ad for NASA in the Stanford newspaper and applied. NASA hadn’t selected new astronauts for 10 years, she said, and more than 8,000 men and women applied to the program. Thirty-five astronauts were accepted, six of them women.

It was the first opportunity in America for women to participate in the program. Ride was on the space shuttle Challenger with two other women for the first flight.

She could see smog over Mexico City, she said, and “it brought home the fragility of the planet.”

Ride said that the shuttle went 17, 500 miles an hour for eight minutes, and it took 90 seconds to circle the planet. She also participated in a second 80-day mission in 1984 on Challenger, and she’s spent more than 343 cumulative hours in space flight.

“I can’t think of a more inspirational person to turn ground for the new science building,” said Dr. Lisa Urry, head of the Biology department.

Students should “reach for the stars,” said Ride, who will be working for the Imaginary Lines program for NASA in Mountain View for the next year.