Being the first Canadian woman in space, Dr. Roberta Bondar has paved the way for many after. She fosters the notion that diversity isn’t just one-dimensional — it’s the pillar of innovation, collaboration, and the future of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
Why did you want to become an astronaut?
Growing up, I was quite keen on the night sky and the stars as they peered over Lake Superior. The sky was very clear, and in those days, there was very little light pollution, even being close to a big city. I was very interested in what was up there, and my parents bought me a book on the Golden Guide to stars. I just knew in my heart that I would someday be able to fly. I’ve always had this connection to space.
Early on, there were no astronauts — it was, ‘I want to be a spaceman.’ I wanted to become an astronaut to be able to have an adventure and to see what was up there. Later on in life, it became more about being able to look at the Earth from far away, and to discover what we might get from space that could help us here on Earth.
Why is diversity in STEM important?
One of the main reasons that diversity is so important is because of the curiosity, innovation, and creativity that it brings to the world of STEM. It’s so valuable to be able to draw on different systems, perspectives, and life experiences. Diversity isn’t just about education — it’s also applied work, fieldwork, and more of a three-dimensional life experience.
The other aspect of diversity is culture. We don’t just get educated in one narrow field, at one university or college or online course, and then suddenly know everything. Different people approach problems from different angles, and a lot of that is cultural. I learned from my international flight — because it was a precursor to the International Space Station — that people learn science differently in different cultures. Because of this, having a broad, diverse, and expert-based team is invaluable. We need to have diversity in our life experiences and our educations.
There are many things that we can start doing to make the world a better place, but all of these things require diversity of thought, diversity of curiosity, and diversity of expertise.