Today, I was pleased to join President Obama at the White House for the 2014 White House Science Fair recognizing the student winners of a broad range of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) competitions from across the country. This year’s fair is especially focused on girls and women who are excelling in STEM and inspiring the next generation with their work. In addition to recognizing the achievements of the students, the President also announced new steps as part of his Educate to Innovate campaign, designed to engage and support more girls and boys in STEM education. As a major driver of science, technology and innovation, NASA has made STEM education the centerpiece of our outreach to schools and students throughout the nation.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden poses with an all-girl engineering team that participated in the White House Science Fair. “Team Rocket Power” was one of 100 teams that qualified for last year’s Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC). Nia’mani Robinson, 15, Jasmyn Logan, 15, and Rebecca Chapin-Ridgely, 17, gave up their weekends and free time after school to build and test their bright purple rocket, which is designed to launch to an altitude of about 750 ft, and then return a “payload” (an egg) to the ground safely. The fourth White House Science Fair was held at the White House on May 27, 2014 and included 100 students from more than 30 different states who competed in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) competitions. (Photo Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)
Through our educational partnerships with teachers, students and schools, we are committed to inspiring the next generation of scientists and explorers who will keep America in the forefront of technology, innovation and space exploration.
As is well known, there is a crisis in this country that stems from the gap between our growing need for scientists, engineers, and other technically skilled workers, and our available supply. It is also well known that women and minorities continue to earn a paucity of the science and engineering degrees earned by U.S. citizens and to be underrepresented in the STEM fields. We must close those gaps if America is to remain in the forefront of the rapidly evolving, highly competitive, global technology market.
That is why we have made STEM education a priority at NASA. And today at the White House Science Fair, I was pleased to announce an exciting new resource for students. NASA and Khan Academy, a non-profit educational website, have initiated a series of online tutorials designed to increase student interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The interactive education lessons invite users to become actively engaged in the scientific and mathematical protocols that NASA uses every day to measure our universe, to explore the exciting engineering challenges involved in launching and landing spacecraft on Mars, and to learn about other space exploration endeavors and destinations. These dynamic educational materials are free and available on the Khan Academy’s website:
The Science Fair’s focus on girls reminds us that NASA is a major employer of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields and one of our priorities is inspiring young women to pursue an education and career in the STEM pipeline. For example, half of the eight newest members of our astronaut candidates in the Class of 2013 are women – the highest percentage ever – and we hope to maintain this level of diversity in our ranks in the years ahead.
But at NASA women are not only astronauts; they also run science missions. They engineer and build our many spacecraft. Our chief financial officer, chief scientist and one of our field center directors are women. They are program managers, budget analysts and communicators. They serve in every capacity and continue to prove something we all know – as Amelia Earhart famously said, men and women are equal “in jobs requiring intelligence, coordination, speed, coolness and willpower.”
I saw that first-hand at the White House Science fair which included the members of Oklahoma-based Girl Scout Troop 2612 – Avery Dodson, 7; Natalie Hurley, 8; Miriam Schaffer, 8; Claire Winton, 8; and Lucy Claire Sharp, 8. These girls put their preparedness skills into action as part of the Junior FIRST Lego League’s Disaster Blaster Challenge. The Challenge invites thousands of elementary-school-aged students from across the country to explore how simple machines, motorized parts, engineering, and math can help solve problems posed by natural disasters like floods or earthquakes.
NASA is embarking on the most exciting human spaceflight missions in our storied history. We are charting a path to Mars. Our Asteroid Redirect Mission will send humans to an asteroid for the first time and our International Space Station is helping us perfect the technologies to achieve these ambitious goals. Our need for STEM educated workers will only increase in the coming years. Today’s White House Science Fair makes it clear that there is no shortage of young people who want to be a part of America’s technology future. We stand with President Obama in pledging to give them the support and the opportunities they need to succeed.