Star Trek's Sonequa Martin-Green Reflects on Nichelle Nichols' Legacy, Joins Campaign To Get 1 Million Girls Into STEM

Sonequa Martin-Green, who stars as Capt. Michael Burnham in Star Trek: Discovery on Paramount+, is teaming with Frito-Lay Variety Packs for a campaign to put 1 million young girls on the path toward careers in stem. The Back-to-School Blast Off program sees Martin-Green and Frito-Lay teaming with STEM Next's Million Girls Moonshot, an organization dedicated to bringing STEM learning opportunities to more than 1 million girls through afterschool and summer programs by 2025. Frito-Lay Variety Backs will donate $100,000 to Moonshot in support of their cause and to send the group's inaugural Flight Crew of hopeful space explorers to Space Camp.

"It was one plus one equals two because it's such a wonderful opportunity for these girls," Martin-Green tells of her becoming involved with the Back-to-School Blast Off program. "Frito-Lay has partnered with Million Girls Moonshot, and they provide the resources necessary for these girls who might normally not be able to do something like this to experience the Space Camp at NASA. And so, for those girls that are interested in pursuing careers in STEM, who are interested in being astronauts even, they get to have this experience, and hopefully, it will be a marker for them, right? Hopefully, they'll remember it. And hopefully, it'll set them on their paths. Frito-Lay donated $100,000 dollars to this initiative, and there are 16 girls who were chosen by Million Girls Moonshot from all around the country, and they'll be having the Space Camp experience next summer, and there have been a couple of other groups that have gone, but it's so exciting because these girls got ceremonial stars named after them."

(Photo: CBS/Frito-Lay)

She continues, "I am just so happy to just spread awareness about it. That would be my role in it. As someone who is standing on Nichelle Nichols' shoulders, I am honored to spread awareness about this amazing thing. And it's really just to get the fire stoked for these girls because there's such a dearth of female representation and of color in STEM. It's about 10% actually, which is quite sad. So the more we can get us in there in these very important fields, the better because we deserve to be there. And I think that the more all of us are represented everywhere, the better our world is going to be."

Martin-Green mentions Nichols as our previously arranged discussion happened to, unfortunately, fall on the day after Nichols' death. Nichols was a trailblazing Black actress who became iconic through her role as Uhura in Star Trek: The Original Series. That was decades before Martin-Green became the first woman of color to lead a Star Trek series with Star Trek: Discovery's launch in 2017, with Nichols attending the show's world premiere. Martin-Green shared some thoughts, speaking through tears -- "I keep crying when I talk about it" -- about Nichols' life and legacy and her attempts to follow in her footsteps.

"You can't really quantify it, right, what she did," Martin-Green says. "But her work in NASA, she decided to set aside her own dreams and she made her dream be about the future and about everybody else, and that particularly speaks to me. And she was responsible for these programs that integrated NASA because she saw, 'Hey, this isn't right. I don't see anyone who looks like me here. Let's change this.' And NASA thankfully trusted her. And so, she had her company, Women in Motion, and she then formed an affiliation with that company and with NASA and developed these programs. And we've got the first female astronaut, the first black astronaut; it goes on and on and on directly from those programs."

She continues, "And then, she served on the board of governors of what is now the National Space Society starting from the mid-eighties. She just dedicated her life to it, and she said, 'Oh, I'm an actor, and I want to be on Broadway, and I want to do this or that,' we all know that Dr. King himself asked her to stay because we needed to see her. So you can't really quantify what she's done. But here we are in 2022, talking about this Space Camp experience. And it is very much because of her. We have her to thank for things like this. And she said, when she was here, "if you are inspired by me, I just ask for you to continue my legacy." So that is why I jumped at this because I want to do that in all the ways that I can.

Premiere Of CBS's
(Photo: Albert L. Ortega / Getty Images)

"I am just now learning here lately what it really means that there's no 'I' in 'legacy,' and that it's not about you, it's about who's going to come after you. So I'm very grateful to Frito-Lay for doing this with Million Girls Moonshot, and I just want to support it in whatever way that I can. I want to meet these girls. I want to see them face-to-face and encourage them that they can do whatever it is that they want to do. And to look at Nichelle's memory as inspiration. I hope that they do that as well."

Martin-Green goes on to say that she thinks creating a more inclusive STEM field is especially important for building a better future. It's a sentiment she remembers Nichols had shared.

"I think STEM is important because that's where our world is going," she says. "In my opinion, from what I see, we're just getting more and more technologically advanced. We're just going more and more digital as we go. And so many spheres are changing, right? There's so much automation happening, and the job force itself is changing, and I think because of that, it's important that the way our world truly looks should be represented in that way because I do think that it is where we're headed, and I don't remember the exact quote, but Nichelle said the same thing. She believed that it was very much our future. And I think that it is too."

"I think for that reason, it's especially important to lift up girls and people of color so that they're encouraged to join, that they're allowed to contribute, and so that their contribution is respected and received," Martin-Green continues. "Because that's the thing, that's the difference between diversity and inclusion, right? It's you can't just have me in the room. You have to listen to what I say and apply it. And so I think that's why it's so important because I really do, from my point of view, it seems like that's very much where we're heading."

(Photo: Frito-Lay)

More information about the Frito-Lay Variety Packs Back-to-School Blast Off program can be found at the program's website, which offers STEM activities created by NASA Scientists that use common household items. Individuals can also share pictures of their family's Back-to-School Blast Off activity with #SpaceForHer and #Entry on Instagram or Twitter, and they will be entered for a chance to have a ceremonial star named after a girl they know. For every photo shared on Instagram or Twitter, Frito-Lay Variety Packs will make a $20 donation to Million Girls Moonshot (up to a maximum of $50,000) on top of the brand's original $100,000 donation. Frito-Lay Variety Packs has also launched an interactive map on the

There's also a website with a constellation of the ceremonial stars, complete with coordinates and names.  The map will continue to be updated throughout the program's duration.