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Sally Ride's widow forges new frontiers at San Diego school
by Sarah Toce
2018-01-31

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Sally Ride Science contemplated for years whether or not they should remain a company or become a nonprofit. The decision was made in October 2015 when Sally Ride Science was acquired by University of California at San Diego.

"It's been a match made in heaven," Tam O'Shaughnessy, Sally Ride's widow, said. "I became the CEO in 2014 and I immediately started looking for a merger and acquisition with a company or a really good science education nonprofit. We are thriving at UC San Diego."

It seemed like a match made in heaven.

"Sally was a professor of physics at UC San Diego," O'Shaughnessy said. "One night I had this idea that I should call the Chancellor of UC San Diego and see if they were at all interested in acquiring us. And the reason that the thought crossed my mind is that UC San Diego is very entrepreneurial. I thought that there was some chance that they would be interested in science education and carrying on our mission."

It was important to O'Shaunessy that UC San Diego allow original members to stay on board to continue carrying out their mission. Sally Ride Science is performing many of the same tasks they always did before the merger and acquisition, but the new partnership has its perks.

"We're actually located at the UC San Diego extension," O'Shaughnessy explained. "It's not like any other university extension I've ever been around. They are global; they make money; they're very entrepreneurial. Our partner at the UC San Diego extension, UCTV, is there. UCTV is the most successful university media outlet in the world."

The organization also partnered with San Diego Supercomputer Center and Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego.

"We have a wealth of talented people to work with," O'Shaughnessy boasted.

It was almost as if someone from up above had put the idea of UC San Diego in her mind.

"Yeah, somebody might have!" she said.

It's been 18 years since Sally Ride Science was founded. O'Shaughnessy agreed that it almost felt like her baby going off to college—no pun intended.

"We're in our 18th year; it's really exciting," she said. "Some of the folks at Sally Ride Science are still working with—we're now called Sally Ride Science at UC San Diego. There's a core group of the Sally Ride Science regulars and then there's a new group also. They are all wonderful and very collaborative."

Programming includes Sally Ride Conversations where "videos with eminent scientists" are conducted and shared to a wide audience. "And then I write articles in a program called 'Tam on Steam' about women in science, engineering and math," O'Shaughnessy said.

The goal of the program is to ensure that the organization is giving young people, parents and teachers diverse role models.

"They need to know that there's more women out there besides Marie Curie," she said.

The Navy optioned to name a research vessel after Ride and the official commissioning happened in October 2016 in San Diego. O'Shaughnessy was invited onto the ship for the commissioning and a video was made depicting how it all came to be. She discussed what she thought Ride might think of the occasion.

"I think she would be really proud of me and what I did with the company and seeing through this acquisition and I think she'd love this research vessel and be proud," she shared. "It's the first national research vessel named after a woman. The first! Ever. I think she'd be very honored."

Ride and O'Shaughnessy have put in their time working in the field of climate change, which makes the research vessel dedication all that more exciting.

"She would love that this research vessel is doing great studies of the ocean, the fisheries, and how the atmosphere and the water interact and gaining more details about what happens when sea levels rise, and oceans warming...she would love it," she said. "She would be amazed at how much our society has changed in regard to LGBT—she would be astounded. To be who you are and not have to worry about it..." she said.

It's a concept that O'Shaughnessy is now able to enjoy, but is she? Has she found a new love? How is she coping following the loss of her greatest love?

"I have been a new person because I was able to be open about being a gay woman. I don't hide it from anybody," she said. "It's very freeing and almost like my shoulders are relaxed more often."

Time is said to heal all wounds, but it's not always as easy as it sounds.

"It's been five years since Sally died and I've been really busy...taking care of the company; taking care of Sally's legacy with NASA; holding the national tribute for her in Washington, D.C.; and then once we were acquired, it's been a lot to do to develop partnerships and build collaboration with the new and existing teams; and, anyway....I have not found new love. I still miss Sally. But I am hopeful."

Find out more about Sally Ride Science at UC San Diego by visiting sallyridescience.ucsd.edu and extension.ucsd.edu/courses-and-programs/Sally-Ride-Science .


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