[MUSIC] If you look in science technology engineering and math, women make up 30% or less of the work force. And one of the men would make a comment that would make me stop and think, yeah, you're a girl. Women were always the extreme minority. Go in a room, you kinda look around the room and you say, How many people are there in this room that look like me? How do we create an environment all along that pipeline that not just welcomes women but actually actively encourages them cuz we know that's the key to success. Two, one [INAUDIBLE] and the final liftoff of Discovery. [MUSIC] Hi. I'm Ellen Stofan, the John and Adrian Mars Director of this [UNKNOWN] National Air and Space Museum. That's a big long title. [MUSIC] This is what I do. I was the chief scientist of NASA from 2013 to 2016. And having that job was incredibly fun. I got to work on all kinds of science issues across NASA from what are the next spacecraft that we're sending to study the earth out into the solar system out to study the universe. To how are we actually going to get humans to Mars. An incredibly fun job a great experience. Its an incredible honor to be the first female director of the national air and space museum. I want every girl in this country to feel like she can grow up to be an astronaut, a pilot Or maybe someday the Director of the National Air and Space Museum. [MUSIC] Every day I walk into the museum and it still just fills me with awe because all of our artifacts Tell the story of someone who went the fastest, someone who went the furthest, someone who went the highest. [MUSIC] You know when I was growing up, I actually, because I liked science, I would look to see who were the famous women in science, in technology, in engineering That had come before me. And you know, those stories were kind of few and far between. [MUSIC] So that's one of the reasons, when I became director of the museum, I put a photo wall on the wall in my office. Of women who have achieved amazing things in aviation and space. And so for example one of the women on the wall is Bessie Coleman. She was the first African American to earn a pilot's licence. Amelia Earhart is up on the wall and Mae Jemison who was the first African American woman to fly in space. I think this is really important for girls to have role models that they can look at someone and say, I can be that. [MUSIC] Breaking barriers, growing up, I had sort of an unusual background because my dad worked for NASA. He actually is a rocket engineer. And my mom was a science teacher, so I went to my first rocket launch when I was four. Having that environment where science and engineering and NASA and exploration were something we talked about at the dining room table, and so to me, to pursue that kind of field was natural. [MUSIC] [MUSIC] After my freshman year in college, I already knew that I wanted to be a planetary geologist. I interned at The Center for Earth and Planetary Studies, which is at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC. And to me it was the most awesome place in the world. I really never thought I would come back as director, and partially that was because. That wasn't just something that I thought was a career path for women at the time. Dream bigger. > But, you just have to say, you know, I'm going to get through this. I'm going to stick with my goal. I'm going to stick with my dream. And, I'm going to make it happen. > Women actually make up less than 30 percent of the workforce, and in some cases much closer to 20 percent of the workforce, especially if you look at certain fields like engineering, computer science And so you really have to think why do those gaps still persist. And the problem is it's really a pipeline problem. So girls are either actively discouraged or sort of subtle discouraged from the time they're young to say those aren't things that women do. [SOUND] I would be in a conference room with you know 20 people. I was the only woman And this one man he actually had a terrible mouth and he would swear up a storm. And then he would look at me and say sorry Ellen, and then he talks some more and then he'd swear some more and then he'd look at me and say sorry Ellen. And you'd say well what's wrong with that? He was apologizing. But he was reminding everyone in the room that I was different. And again then when you say, if I'm different is this where I belong? So I would feel I like would have to work twice as hard to be taken half as seriously. And so I felt a huge amount of pressure earlier in my career and I'm really passionate about this cuz I actually had huge support. I had huge from my parents from my teachers along the way and from my professor. And so it's really important to me to say, would I have stayed if I had had people actively discourage or harass me? And I'm not sure I would've. And so to me, it's really important to say, how do we move All girls forward. To the next generation. One of the things that's incredibly important for me is support other women because I think as you move forward you really need that support network. You need those people saying you belong. So I thought it would be good if we could really start thinking about how we're gonna use technology in the galleries. Bringing experience alive for kids. We're really focused on middle school kids. How can we really engage that next generation of explorers and innovators. So a lot of our programs here at the museum are how can we get them excited, how can we show them that engineering is fun? It helps you invent things like the space shuttle behind me. It helps you fly in a plane that's maybe going higher or faster than any airplane has ever gone before. You have to lift all people up. If anyone's being ignored. And one of the important things for me is let's make sure we also inspire them with stories of people who look like them. So whether your a Latino boy, whether your an African American girl, I wanna make sure you see yourself Someone who looks like you that has achieved amazing things in the past here in the museum. [MUSIC] [SOUND] [BLANK_AUDIO]
Ellen Stofan was basically bred for NASA. Growing up, her father worked for the space exploration giant as a rocket engineer while her mother taught science courses. She grew up accustomed to hearing aeronautics-speak and scientific discussion at the dining room table. She even attended her first rocket launch when she was just 4-years-old.
Stofan eventually became NASA’s Chief Scientist, meaning she was working on everything from the next spacecrafts in development to study the universe, to the question of how they'll actually get people to Mars. Stofan says it was unsurprisingly a “really fun” job. But, she also recognizes how rare her childhood experience was and how her life path might have turned out very differently without the support of her parents in her chosen field.
“If you look in science, technology, engineering, or math, women make up 30 percent or less of the workforce,” Stofan says in the video above. “I want every girl in this country to feel like she can grow up to be an astronaut, a pilot, or maybe someday the director of the National Air and Space Museum.”
Now, as the first female director of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., she wants to make sure the next generation of future explorers, especially women and minorities, are encouraged to enter STEM fields just like she was as a kid. “How do we create an environment all along that pipeline that not just welcomes women but actually actively encourages them, because we know that’s the key to success?” she asks.
To hear more about her plans for the museum and future explorers, watch the full video above and read excerpts below.
Starting out: “Women were always the extreme minority,” Stofan says when discussing her early career and the challenges of being a woman in her field. She also recalls a scenario where a male co-worker would curse during meetings, then immediately turn to Stofan, often the only woman in the room, and apologize. “He was reminding everyone in the room that I was different,” Stofan says. “[That's] when you say, 'If I’m different, is this where I belong?' So, I would feel like I had to work twice as hard to be taken half as seriously.”
Full circle: Stofan is a big fan of her museum. “Every day I walk into the museum and it still just fills me with awe because all of our artifacts tell the story of someone who went the fastest, someone who went the furthest, someone who went the highest,” she says of the inspiring objects that surround her every day. The wide-eyed feeling might stem from her first-ever visit to the museum, when she began there as an intern.
After her freshman year in college, when she decided planetary geology was her calling, she interned at the Center for Earth and Planetary studies, which is at the Air and Space Museum.
“To me it was the most awesome place in the world,” she says. “I really never thought I would come back as director and partially that was because that wasn’t something that I thought was a career path for women at the time.” Fast-forward to today, when Stofan is making history.
Women in STEM: To honor women in STEM fields whom Stofan looks up to, she’s created a commemorative wall in her office at the museum that showcases amazing women who achieved great feats in aviation and space. These photos include everyone from Amelia Earhart to another Badass Woman and NASA veteran, Mae Jemison.
Goals for the next gen: “One of the important things for me is let’s make sure we inspire them with stories of people who look like them,” Stofan says. “I want to make sure you see yourself, someone who looks like you that has achieved amazing things in the past here in the museum.” She’s doing so by focusing on middle school-aged kids in her programming and trying to show them how cool their careers can be.