Inspiration can come to us from many places. I found myself moved a few weeks ago while looking up at the stars whizzing through the sky during the Perseid meteor showers.

In my role as CEO of science education non-profit, Iridescent, two very different sources inspired me: a tremendous role model, my grandmother, who started a school in India at an age when most of her peers were settling into retirement, and nature, specifically the graceful motion of birds in flight, which compelled me to pursue a degree in aerospace engineering. With Iridescent, my passion for education and turning kids on to the wonders of science, tech, math and engineering, have come together.

Creative Approaches to STEM Education

Today, as many of our girls in the U.S. continue to stagnate in the science, tech, engineering and math (STEM) fields, we need to get creative in our approaches to engage them. Often, we’re fighting forces with mainstream media and industries that tell girls that science, tech, math and engineering are boys’ work.

So I was delighted when, earlier this year, my friend who works at Warner Bros. Pictures told me about an upcoming film starring Sandra Bullock as an engineer in the Sci-Fi film, Gravity, opening October 4. How perfect, I thought, to illuminate the power of STEM education by combining a strong female role model playing an engineer (Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a brilliant engineer on her first shuttle mission), with the natural wonder and awe that comes from images of outer space. Fresh out of the Venice Film Festival, Gravity is getting rave reviews.

"At once the most realistic and beautifully choreographed film ever set in space…"
-Hollywood Reporter

"One of the most sophisticated and enveloping visions of space travel yet realized onscreen…" –Variety

Role Models

Whether Dr. Ryan Stone hurtling through space is the ideal role model to inspire young engineers is almost beside the point. What excites me is that she’s there — on a space mission with an engineering challenge to solve. And our daughters will be the next generation of engineers, astronauts, technologists and scientists, if only we can get them engaged.

In anticipation of Gravity, the movie, and in partnership with Warner Bros. Pictures, Iridescent recently launched a science contest for teens called the Gravity Design Challenge. Teens are invited to the website to participate in the challenge, through which they’ll be paired with a mentor to design and build a Rube Goldberg space machine that simulates an orbit of the earth.

This week we are also hosting a design/build event for Gravity Design Challenge at Iridescent’s Family Science Studio in LA. Present will be a few of my favorite female role models: Dr Andrea Hodge, a professor in the Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Southern California (USC) and Dr. Burcin Becerik-Gerber, a professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department also at USC.

I hope that by illuminating our strong female role models and encouraging our girls to explore, experiment, and create, we’ll encourage them to take an interest in science and engineering and reach for the moon (or at least the boardroom).

Who were your most inspiring role models or what moved you to explore a career in the STEM fields?