Ellen Stofan

How to Encourage Girls to Pursue STEM
June 29 - On The Dot

FIRST THOUGHT: Written in the Stars

I was sitting on my front porch one evening when my neighbor stopped by while walking her border collie. As we chitchatted, she looked up at the sky and started to identify planets and constellations. “I should get out my telescope,” she said. Since her days as a little girl, she’s loved looking into the infinite above. It got me thinking about how inspiring a glimpse into the heavens can be. You don’t need to know Cassiopeia from Orion to be able to appreciate and even gain some visionary insight from the night sky. The next time you’re feeling stressed about an upcoming work deadline or a mighty high water bill, take a few minutes to gaze at the skies above and feel the insignificance of the problem. Who knows? The moon might just put it all in perspective.


If you’re looking to delve a little deeper into the realm of sky and space, consider making a visit to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. This world-renowned institution, which opened its doors in 1976, boasts the world’s biggest and most impressive collection of aviation and space artifacts in its 19 inner museums. Each year, more than 8 million people visit the Air and Space Museum, making it the most visited museum in the country.

WOMAN TO WATCH: Ellen Stofan, Director of The Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum

Some decades ago, an imaginative 4-year-old girl excitedly viewed her first rocket launch. The rocket blew up on the pad, and though no one was on board, the girl decided then and there to revise her dream of becoming an astronaut. But she remained resolved that the world of space exploration was in her future. That girl’s name is Ellen Stofan, and these days, this brainy and innovative lady is the lauded director of The Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum, and she’s the first woman to hold the elite and exhilarating position.

As a science-loving teenager, Ellen watched acclaimed astronomer and science communicator Carl Sagan speak at the launch of the Viking lander, the first American spacecraft to land on Mars and send images back to Earth. It was an experience that further solidified her goal to study space. Indeed, Ellen’s passion reached beyond the moon and the sun, heck, even past the galaxies, and before long, she began following in the footsteps of her father, a celebrated NASA rocket scientist.

After spending a decade working as a research scientist for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Ellen spent even longer studying the surfaces of Mars, Saturn’s moon and Venus before propelling her way back to NASA as the organization’s extolled chief scientist.

Now, as the first woman to lead the Air and Space Museum, Ellen is on a new mission, which includes sharing the diverse history of those whose toil contributed to the vast knowledge we have of space today, from the women working as “human computers” at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to the group of African-Americans who worked at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in the early 1960s and became part of the civil-rights revolution.

Of course, another part of Ellen’s mission is to encourage more girls to get excited about the world of STEM, noting that it’s fairly easy to get girls interested in science, but more challenging to keep them hooked, especially if they don’t see other women working in the field. Luckily, Ellen is a shining example and the perfect role model for girls interested in pursuing an out-of-this-world career in STEM.


As the brilliant Ellen Stofan said:

“It’s part of the human character to want to know what’s over the next hill, to want to know what’s beyond.”

This is Melinda Garvey signing off until next time. Remember, ladies, empowered women empower other women. Share On the Dot so more women can have a voice. Thanks for getting ready with us.

To learn more about our conversation, check us out at OnTheDotWoman.com and talk to us @OnTheDotWoman on Twitter and Instagram. We’d love to hear your voice.

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