Sally Ride enters new frontier: convincing girls that science is cool

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Sally Ride knows better than anyone that many girls – particularly those in middle school – don't rate science very high on the cool test.

That's why Ms. Ride, a scientist and the first American woman in space, is working to boost that rating – one city at a time.

Last fall she kick-started the Sally Ride Science Festival (www.sallyridefestivals.com), a four-hour event that lets young girls hear the former astronaut's stories about space travel and participate in various workshops.

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The festival's upcoming destinations are Los Angeles this Saturday and Washington, D.C., on May 11.

"It was exciting talking to Sally Ride and getting her autograph," says fifth-grader Hallie Stevens, who attended an October festival in San Diego. The gathering there, as well as later ones in Atlanta and Phoenix, attracted an average of 600 girls, parents, and teachers.

Participants are able to interact with area female scientists by building their own volcano using kitchen chemicals, playing Jeopardy with energy conservation as the topic, or discovering what it's like to be on a scientific cruise in Antarctic waters.

Hallie's favorite projects, though, were creating her own three-dimensional animation and checking out a gigantic Lego-laden rocket.

For her mom, Susan, the chance to meet Ride was what blew her away.

"Just hearing about her experience in space and seeing her slides of the earth were so amazing," she says.

The umbrella company for the festivals, Imaginary Lines Inc., also launched the nationwide Sally Ride Club last fall with a similar mission.

The San Diego-based company's cofounder, Karen Flammer, says girls "generally are interested in science until about the junior-high age, and then it is no longer considered cool." She says more opportunities for young girls to become engaged in science would help.

Local teachers, YMCAs, Girl Scouts, or Boys and Girls clubs have started the Sally Ride Clubs in cities across the United States, using activities and materials provided by Imaginary Lines.

The club's website, www.sallyrideclub.com, also allows girls to chat with one another or to give suggestions to astronauts who are working on exciting new projects.

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