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Sally Ride Science at UC San Diego Celebrates Trailblazers at Fifth Annual Women in Leadership Event

Just weeks before the 40th Anniversary of Sally Ride’s Historic Spaceflight, the annual Women in Leadership event charts the course of women’s progress

Women in Leadership esteemed panelists shared their journeys, triumphs and challenges as leaders and advocates.
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Women in Leadership esteemed panelists shared their journeys, triumphs and challenges as leaders and advocates.

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June 18, 2023, marks the 40th anniversary of the day Sally Ride blasted off aboard shuttle Challenger to become America’s first woman in space. As she broke through the atmosphere, so too did she break NASA’s gender barrier. In the ensuing years, Ride established her legacy as a champion of equity in science education and a beacon for girls and young people from diverse backgrounds striving to realize their dreams.

Today, the Women in Leadership event is presented annually by Sally Ride Science @ UC San Diego — the organization founded by Ride; her life partner, Tam O’Shaughnessy; and three colleagues — to honor a decades-long legacy of blazing new trails and promoting equity and inclusion. O’Shaughnessy conceived of the first Women in Leadership event in 2018 to celebrate the dedication of a U.S. Postal Service Forever stamp in Ride’s honor. From that lively and thought-provoking conversation emerged the idea of a yearly gathering to inspire girls and women to embrace leadership roles.

This year’s Women in Leadership panel discussion took place on Thursday, May 25, in UC San Diego’s Price Center East Ballroom, welcoming more than 200 guests eager to explore women’s leadership topics, hear from campus leaders and featured speakers, and celebrate the 40th anniversary of Ride’s history-making spaceflight. Among the attendees were representatives from UC San Diego and Division of Extended Studies leadership, including Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla; Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Elizabeth H. Simmons; Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Becky R. Petitt; and Associate Dean of UC San Diego Division of Extended Studies Ed Abeyta.

In her introductory remarks, Executive Vice Chancellor Simmons reflected on the importance and relevance of the annual event. “This program highlights the milestones that have been attained toward gender equity. But, you know, celebrating the record breakers and celebrating the firsts carries a kind of poignancy,” said Simmons. “It’s a reminder that we still have a long way to go to truly achieve gender equity throughout all fields.”

The showcase of the night was a panel discussion with an esteemed group of speakers from diverse backgrounds and professions, sharing their journeys, challenges, and triumphs and delving into the current state of women’s progress. The conversation was moderated by award-winning broadcaster and author Lynn Sherr, guiding a candid and lively discussion with Erin Jackson, speedskating Olympic Gold Medalist and STEM advocate; Laurie Leshin, geochemist, space scientist and director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory; and Natalia Molina, professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California and award-winning author.

Sherr, who has been involved in the panel since the first event in 2018, set the tone for the hour-long conversation, relating a story about anchoring TV coverage of the liftoff of the space shuttle 40 years ago, on June 18, 1983. “After 25 years of white male fighter pilots doing their Buck Rogers thing, Sally proved you don't need the right plumbing to have the right stuff,” said Sherr. “It was and is a ‘first' worth remembering and exactly what we honor here today.”

Featured panelists from left: Lynn Sherr, Laurie Leshin, Natalia Molina, Erin Jackson.Featured panelists from left: Lynn Sherr, Laurie Leshin, Natalia Molina, Erin Jackson.

Featured panelists from left: Lynn Sherr, Laurie Leshin, Natalia Molina, Erin Jackson.


Helmed by Sherr, the panel discussion was wide-ranging, touching on the erosion of women’s rights and freedoms, the importance of collective responsibility, the nature of female friendships and mentorships to propel women towards their goals, and the role of men in changing the culture. The conversation concluded with speculative questions, soliciting the panelists for their reflections on what would be different if women ran the world, and their perspectives on how many generations we have to wait until things change.

After the program, attendees gathered near the stage to meet and thank the panelists, take photos, and capture autographs, bringing together dreamers and trailblazers of all generations and genders.

“Tonight’s celebration of Sally and her extraordinary leadership continues with the women in this program,” said Chancellor Khosla. “Hopefully you will leave here inspired and willing and ready to make a change in other people's lives and be a changemaker.”

When someone asks, why does it matter that you are the first Black person to do something like this? It matters. Someone will see it and be inspired to try new sports and try new things, just as young girls and women were inspired by Sally Ride when she went into space.
Erin Jackson, speedskating Olympic Gold Medalist and STEM advocate

The full broadcast of the Women in Leadership panel is available at UCSD-TV.

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