When the countdown gets to 30 seconds, there is nothing that can be done to stop the launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis. The day before, the clock stopped at 31 seconds and did not restart, due to the weather at an emergency landing site. But today was different. The weather was perfect on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral and all the other required sites.
Everyone in payload mission control, including a 24-year-old young woman who had been in Florida for the previous 6 months participating in only the second Shuttle launch since the Challenger tragedy, stood, raced to the door to the outside and watched Atlantis rise above the orange groves, gracefully thundering into orbit.
This was to be one of the first of many once-in-a-lifetime experiences in the less-than-probable career for this woman, an electrical engineer by degree, starting out before STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), and STEAM (“A” added for arts) were a thing.
Fast forward 30 years. This same woman, now a successful and seasoned professional in the aviation and aerospace fields, finds herself no longer employed in the career that was not only what she did, but who she was. This is me.
I believe that in order to involve more girls and women in STEM careers and education, we need to stop asking “Are you good at math?” and start asking “What are you interested in and what are the problems that need to be solved?”. Name an interest and there is invariably a related STEM career.
I believe that “STEM” needs to evolve to “STEAM” for the very reason that who we are is so much more than what we do. We need to not only nurture our minds, but also our bodies, hearts and spirits.