Classes begin at Needham's first school named after a woman of color

NEEDHAM, Mass. — On Friday, it was the first day of school at the Sunita L. WIlliams School in Needham, named after the astronaut and Navy captain.

At the new elementary school, the unofficial motto is "Follow your dreams, even if they take you to the moon."

In honor of Captain Williams, the school aims to empower the children and show them anything is possible if you reach for the stars.

"My dad came, immigrated from India with nothing," said Williams. "My parents didn't have much and we had a wonderful life, it's pretty cool."

Williams, of all people, knows what it's like to follow your dreams - she even went as far as running the Boston Marathon from space in 2007.

Captain William's flight suit, navy uniform, service pictures and fifth-grade school picture are all on display at the school.

On the international day of the girl, Williams represents more than just a cool connection to space - it represents access to opportunity.

"I think it's really proving that girls can do anything and she should be inspiring us that we can do anything we want and that we can just go after our dreams," said Molly Hammer, a student.

While the Williams School isn't the first in town to be named after a woman, it is the first to be named after a woman of color.

"Girls, boys, they can do whatever they want to do," said Williams. "It doesn't matter who you are, where you come from, what's your ethnicity - if you put your mind to something, you can do it."

National data shows only about 20% of girls choose a career in science or engineering. Out of all female doctorate STEM graduates, less than 4% are black or Latina.

"We need to make sure that we encourage women and people of color to get into [this field]," said Senator Becca Rausch (D-Needham). "This is really a field that needs to be deeply expanded and that starts right here in elementary schools."

NASA has a series of spacewalks planned and, on Oct. 21st, the first all-female spacewalk is scheduled.

"I think there are so many wonderful women who came before us - Mrs. Fronsih, Mrs. Dianpoli, my mom, the generation before who really took some hard steps to allow us to really start to flourish and then make things normalized, and that's what I think is really cool," said Williams. "After this one, there will be a second one of all women at some point and nobody will even think about it, and that's how it should be."

>> MORE: Burlington woman sentenced to nearly 4 years for daycare death