NASA launched the MissionSTEM website to assist NASA grantees in meeting their compliance obligations under the federal civil rights laws and to find ways to “creatively address issues such as attracting and retaining diverse students in STEM,” as NASA’s Administrator, Charles F. Bolden, Jr. stated in a video introducing the new website. In his video remarks and corresponding blog post, Mr. Bolden references the “Moon Speech” given by President Kennedy at Rice University in 1962 (video/text), in which the President announced plans to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade – even when many of the things that were necessary to make that happen had not even been invented yet.
The President acknowledged that the rapid pace of change in our world created new and more challenges – “new ignorance, new problems, new dangers.” However, he proclaimed that “the United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward.”
Fifty years after President Kennedy’s speech, we have, as a nation, made incredible strides in the STEM fields, but, as Mr. Bolden acknowledges, we cannot continue to move forward without the best talent our nation has to offer. And this means ensuring that all people are able to pursue their interests in STEM fields without being discouraged.
Title IX was passed in 1972 – 10 years after President Kennedy’s speech – and requires that women and girls have equal opportunity to pursue STEM fields free from discriminatory barriers. Currently, women make up nearly half of the U.S. workforce, yet they account for only 24% of STEM jobs. Women are also the majority of students on college campuses, but in 2009, they earned only 19 percent of physics bachelor’s degrees, and received only 16 percent of bachelor’s and 22 percent of master’s or doctorate degrees in engineering and engineering technologies (NWLC Fact Sheet on Title IX and STEM). Women continue to face barriers based on gender stereotypes and a lack of role models.
MissionSTEM is a step forward in the quest to change the ratio, but to achieve true equality, we have to heed President Kennedy’s words, and “be bold.”