NASA's Deputy Dr. Dava Newman and USCTO Megan Smith addressing participants at NASA's White House United State of Women Summit event. Photo Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

Last week, NASA participated in the White House United State of Women Summit by hosting 150 of the 5000 Summit participants for a conversation about engaging women and girls in STEM through data science. NASA Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan kicked off the event, sharing her perspective on all the opportunities for women at NASA -- as astronauts, engineers, mathematicians, geologists, biologists, astrophysicists, and, of course, rocket scientists.

NASA Chief Scientist Dr. Ellen Stofan giving keynote speech at NASA's White House United State of Women Summit event. Photo Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

NASA's Deputy Dr. Dava Newman hosted a fireside chat with US Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith who shared stories of women in data and women in history who made a difference. She quoted Winston Churchill, "the further back you go, the farther forward you will see," to bring perspective on how to unlock talent for women in data by honoring women who may have been forgotten by history for their contributions to computing. 

NASA's Deputy Dr. Dava Newman and USCTO Megan Smith in fireside chat at NASA's White House United State of Women Summit. Photo Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani 

In fact, women were once known as human computers -- employees who transcribed raw data and translated it into engineering units using slide rules and mathematical calculations. Here is a 1949 image (below) from NASA's Dryden Flight Center of early women in data.

Human computers in the NACA (early NASA) High Speed Flight Station Computer Room

Following the fireside chat, we hosted a series of Lightning Talks to introduce our Women in Data initiatives: the International Space Apps Challenge, Data Bootcamp, and NASA Datanauts. Space Apps, our open innovation incubator, has become an unexpected and unintentional focus group of 15,000+ global participants, providing insight into how our data is accessed, and who uses it -- i.e. primarily men.  We conducted a study to understand how to narrow the gap by engaging more women and girls in data science. One key finding is that women look for signals of a welcoming, supportive environment -- such as female speakers, early access to events, and opportunities to gain new skills and collaborate. Based on our findings, we created two initiatives: Data Bootcamp and Datanauts to complement our annual Space Apps hackathon. Data Bootcamp is a one-day introduction to data and coding. Datanauts is a year-long opportunity to learn and practice data science skills. 

Beth Beck sharing Women In Data initiatives at NASA's White House State of Women Summit event. Photo Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

Each of our Lightning Talkers engaged with one or more of our Women in Data initiatives. Each shared personal stories of their journey to data and tech, as well as how they engaged with us. 

Michelle Easter, former model turned NASA Jet Propulsion Lab engineer, spoke at this year's Data Bootcamp preceding the Space Apps Pasadena hackathon, and led one of our most popular Stardust Stations to teach binary code in 10 minutes. She founded MindMakers, a non-profit to equip adults and students with tech skills. 

Michelle Easter addressing participants of NASA's White House United State of Women Summit event. Photo Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

Tina Lai is a Space Apps and Data Bootcamp first-timer at the Pasadena main stage event. She shared how she researched Space Apps to determine if she would fit in. When she saw the speakers and our intent to reach out to non-coders, she jumped in. Now Tina is one of the next class of Datanauts.

Tina Lai addressing participants at NASA's White House United State of Women Summit event. Photo Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

Jerelyn Rodriguez is the Founder and CEO of The Knowledge House, a non-profit investing in the next generation of technologists in the south Bronx. Jerelyn took part in our inaugural Data Bootcamp in 2015 at the Space Apps New York main stage. Jerelyn is also a member of the Datanaut founding class, providing counsel and advice to NASA on how best to engage students with NASA data.

Jerelyn Rodriguez addressing participants of NASA's White House United State of Women Summit event. Photo Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

Dr. Shobhana Gupta, AAAS Science and Technology Fellow at NASA, participated in Space Apps for the first time this year as the Earth Challenge Theme Champion, the AirCheck Challenge creator, and also as a speaker at the Space Apps NYC event. After her experience with Space Apps, Shobhana enrolled in Code Academy classes.

Shobhana Gupta addressing participants of White House United State of Women Summit. Photo Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

Our excellent moderator Tabatha Thompson kept us on track and ably managed the Q and A with the audience.

Tabatha Thompson moderates NASA's White House United State of Women Summit event. Photo Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

What an incredible privilege to take part in the Summit, and share our stories and experiences with the women who attended. We made our own history. I want to give a heartfelt thank you to our awesome Lightning Talkers, and a huge shout out to White House Liaison Clarissa Kornell and Lisa Guerra, who worked tirelessly to organize NASA's event. In case you missed it, you can watch the NASA TV video, and browse all the images from the event taken by NASA photographer Aubrey Gemignani. 

Here's one final image of our participants recording history...or herstory. Today, we'll change tomorrow!

Participants videoing fireside chat with Dr. Dava Newman and USCTO Megan Smith at NASA's White House United State of Women Summit. Photo Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani 

About Beth

Open Innovation Program Manager

NASA Headquarters

beth.beck@nasa.gov