President Obama Invites Science Competition Winners to the White House

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Publication date: 
8 February 2012

“The belief that we  belong on the cutting edge of innovation – that’s an idea as old as America  itself.” – President Barack Obama

“We know that  innovation has helped each generation pass down that basic American promise,  which is no matter who you are, no matter where you come from, you can make it  if you try.  So there’s nothing more  important than keeping that promise alive for the next generation.” –  President Obama

Yesterday, President Obama welcomed over 100 student winners  of science fairs from across the country to the second White House Science Fair.  The students came from over 45 states, and  represented over 40 different competitions in science, technology, engineering,  and mathematics (STEM). 

Present at the science fair were senior administration officials  including John Holdren, Suba Suresh, Lisa Jackson, Charles Bolden, Jane  Lubchenco, Patrick Gallagher, Carl Wieman, Stephen VanRoekel, and Harold  Varmus.  These officials, as well as  astronauts and scientists in attendance, were able to mingle and chat with  students over the course of the morning. 

At the fair, more than 30 student teams had the  opportunity to exhibit projects throughout the first floor of the White House;  this is almost twice as many teams as were present at the first White House  Science Fair held in late 2010.  Many of  the projects were aimed at solving problems students saw in their own communities.  There was an interactive robot designed by  Benjamin Hylak of West Grove, Pennsylvania which could move around a senior  center allowing seniors to connect via Skype with their families and friends  combatting loneliness.  A sanitizing  lunchbox was designed by sixth graders in Kansas City, Missouri, to kill  bacteria on food found in their lunches.   Winners of the FIRST LEGO League competition demonstrated their prosthetic  hand device which enabled a young girl, born without fingers, to write.  Each student presented their project with  enthusiasm and an excellent understanding of the technology but also with a  sense of drive to find solutions to the problems they were solving. 

In his speech, the President highlighted the struggle  that some students faced to get there.   Samantha Garvey, semifinalist of the Intel Science Talent Search,  learned of her placement in that competition while living in a homeless  shelter.  A winning rocketry team from  Presidio, Texas attends school in the fourth-poorest district in the state and  needed supporters to help with raffles and bake sales in order to enter in  their competition.  In the Red Room at  the White House, these students eloquently described their rocket design and  proposed questions that government scientists need to consider when designing rockets. 

The President truly seemed to enjoy the exhibits,  exclaiming that he “fired a marshmallow  cannon in the State Dining Room.”  He  expressed enthusiasm for science and pointed out that “if we are recognizing athletic achievement, then we should also be  recognizing academic achievement and science achievement.  If we invite the team that wins the Super  Bowl to the White House, then we need to invite some science fair winners to  the White House as well.”

He further expressed his gratitude and support for  teachers.  “Every one of you can think of a teacher, or maybe a couple of  teachers, without whom you would not be here.   So I want you to promise that the next time you see those teachers, that  you give them a big thank you, not just for yourself but also from me.  Because teachers matter.  They deserve our support.  And I want to make sure that we are  constantly lifting up how important teachers are to making sure that not only  you succeed, but this country succeeds.”

This science fair compliments the President’s Educate to Innovate campaign intended to  inspire students to excel in math and science.   President Obama’s speech at the science fair highlighted key steps that  the Administration is taking to help more students excel in STEM fields. 

President Obama “called  for an all-hands-on-deck approach to science, math, technology, and  engineering.  Let’s train more teachers.  Let’s get more kids studying these  subjects.  Let’s make sure these fields  get the respect and attention that they deserve.”

His initiative introduced in today’s speech is the  establishment of programs “to help  prepare new math and science teachers, and to meet an ambitious goal, which is  1 million more American graduates in science, technology, engineering and math  over the next 10 years.”

The President also announced key additional steps that  the Administration and its partners are taking to prepare 100,000 effective  math and science teachers to meet the urgent need to train the one million  additional graduates over the next decade. 

Key steps to increase the number of STEM teachers  include: a new $80 million investment to help prepare effective STEM teachers  in the upcoming budget; a new $22 million investment from the philanthropic and  private sector; a STEM focus in the upcoming Race to the Top competition; and  new policies to recruit, support, retain and reward excellent STEM teachers. 

Key steps that were announced to meet the need for 1  million more STEM graduates include: a priority on undergraduate STEM education  reform in the President’s upcoming budget including $100 million in investment  by the National Science Foundation, and a new K-16 education initiative jointly  administered by the Department of Education and the National Science  Foundation. 

The President has called on companies and foundations to  get involved in this initiative as well.   Private sector commitments currently include the expansion of CEO-led coalition  Change the Equation to increase high-quality STEM programs to over 130 new  sites, a new campaign with Time Warner Cable to get students excited about the  future and about science, expanding the pipeline of STEM students to college  though programs like the Posse Foundation which brings under-represented urban  students to college and helps them graduate, and the launch of science after  school programs such as Cognizant’s “Making the Future” Program.

His speech ended with an eloquent plea to the press to “give this some attention.  I mean, this is the kind of stuff, what these  young people are doing, that’s going to make a bigger difference in the life of  our country over the long term than just about anything.  And it doesn’t belong of the back pages of a  newspaper; we’ve got to lift this up.  We’ve  got to emphasize how important this is and recognize these incredible young  people.”

Yesterday afternoon, following the White House Science  Fair, President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology released a  report on undergraduate STEM education which will be the subject of a future  FYI.