Obama Hosting Science Fair as Part of STEM Education Push

By Erik W. Robelen — October 18, 2010 3 min read
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President Obama today will yet again host an event at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to advance STEM education, this time with what’s being called the White House Science Fair.

The event, scheduled to begin at 11:35 a.m., will celebrate the winners of a broad range of student competitions in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. (And as someone who’s been on the receiving end of tons of materials about a dizzying array of competitions, trust me, there’s no shortage to choose from.)

I’m really struck by the extent to which Obama is using the bully pulpit to drum up interest and support for STEM education. I stand to be corrected, but can recall no other recent president doing so. To my knowledge, he’s hosted five White House events (including today’s) since October of last year, starting with an evening focused on astronomy that brought teachers, students, and telescopes to the White House lawn. The second was to announce the launch of the president’s Educate to Innovate campaign, a public-private initiative to advance STEM education.

The White House press release for today’s event indicates that Obama will view exhibits of the winning students’ work, then deliver remarks to an audience of students, science educators, and business leaders on the importance of STEM education to the nation’s economic future.

The event comes out of the so-called Educate to Innovate campaign Obama launched in November 2009 as a public-private partnership to advance STEM education. A key goal of that initiative is to inspire young people to excel in the STEM fields.

Obama said at the November 2009 announcement: “If you win the NCAA championship, you come to the White House. Well, if you’re a young person and you produce the best experiment or design, the best hardware or software, you ought to be recognized for that achievement, too.”

The STEM Advocate-in-Chief also will announce today that he’s going to make an appearance on the Dec. 8 episode of the Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters, a popular TV show that, according to the White House release, “uses science to determine the truth behind urban legends.”

Furthermore, Obama is expected to give a plug for the USA Science & Engineering Festival, which I blogged about last week. That two-week festival is to culminate with a two-day expo just a short walk from the White House on the National Mall. No word yet on whether Obama, or members of his family, will be heading over to check out the Oct. 23-24 expo.

Updated (6:07pm): The transcript is now available for Obama’s speech at the White House Science Fair today. In his remarks, the president reiterated his point about honoring excellence in science and math as much as it’s regarded in sports.

Here’s an excerpt: “So we welcome championship sports teams to the White House to celebrate their victories. I’ve had the Lakers here. I’ve had the Saints here, the Crimson Tide. I thought we ought to do the same thing for the winners of science-fair and robotic contests and math competitions. Because often we don’t give these victories the attention that they deserve. And when you win first place at a science fair, nobody is rushing the field or dumping Gatorade over your head. But in many ways, our future depends on what happens in those contests—what happens when a young person is engaged in conducting an experiment, or writing a piece of software, or solving a hard math problem, or designing a new gadget.”

The president also noted two new developments as part of the Educate to Innovate public-private initiative. For one, he said, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, is launching a campaign to inspire young people in science and engineering, And second, he said, “leading CEOs are going to be part of a new online campaign to show young people the array of jobs that their companies offer scientists and engineers.”

Photo Credit: President Obama watches a robot that plays soccer, built by a team from Blue Bell, Pa., as he tours the science projects on display at the White House today.
Susan Walsh/AP

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.