16 February 2019

Women and Girls in Science Podcast Series: Astronaut Ellen Ochoa

According to the 2016 Global Gender Gap Report from the World Economic Forum, 16 per cent of women globally, compared to 37 per cent of men, graduate with a degree in a STEM field of study (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).  This exclusion of women and girls has important implications not only for scientific research, innovation and development, but also for women’s economic participation and inclusion.  A 2017 report estimates that 85 per cent of jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t even been invented yet, many jobs that exist today will be lost to automation and most jobs of the future will require some facility in STEM-related subjects. If women are to be included in the employment and economic future of tomorrow, they must be included in STEM fields today. 

To promote the empowerment of women and girls in STEM and raise awareness about the need for gender inclusion in science and technology, in 2015 the United Nations General Assembly declared 11 February as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

United Nations Academic Impact sees STEM education as an integral part of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and the participation of women and girls as vital to the success of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.  In this series commemorating the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, UNAI speaks to women scientists, researchers, engineers and tech innovators to find out how they are contributing to their fields and their advice for young women who want to forge a path in the male-dominated world of STEM. 

Today we talk with Ellen Ochoa, an astronaut, engineer and the former director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. 

Ellen Ochoa had a 30-year career at NASA where she served as director of the Johnson Space Center from 2013 to 2018, leading the human space flight enterprise for the nation. She became the first Hispanic woman to go to space aboard the shuttle Discovery in 1993.  She has flown in space four times, logging nearly 1,000 hours leading onboard scientific activities, operating the robotic arm, and serving as flight engineer during the launch, rendezvous, and entry phases of the mission. 

Ochoa is the recipient of many awards including NASA's highest award, the Distinguished Service Medal, the Presidential Distinguished Rank of the Senior Executive Service, and three honorary doctorates.  She is in the Astronaut Hall of Fame, the California Hall of Fame and the International Air & Space Hall of Fame and is honored to have six schools named after her.

Prior to her astronaut and management career, Dr. Ochoa was a research engineer and holds three patents for optical systems.  She earned a Ph.D. and M.S. in Electrical Engineering from Stanford, and a B.S. in Physics from San Diego State University.  She is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), the National Academy of Inventors (NAI), and the Optical Society of America (OSA). 

In this interview Dr. Ochoa talks about finding her path to physics and engineering, conducting science experiments in space and the creativity and curiosity needed for STEM careers. 

 

The following resources provide more information on initiatives for women and girls who aspire to work in the aerospace and engineering fields:

Engineer Girl 

How to become an Astronaut

Women in aerospace 

Career Girls on Astronay careers

Society of Women Engineers