At This Year's White House Science Fair, Obama Gives Girls a Gold Star

This year’s fair was focused on young female inventors and a $35 million commitment to train teachers.

During the 2014 White House Science Fair, held in the State Dining Room of the White House on May 27, President Barack Obama examines a sandless sandbag as its inventor, Peyton Robertson of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., looks on. (Photo: Larry Downing/Reuters)

May 28, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Suzi Parker is a regular contributor to TakePart. Her work also appears in The Christian Science Monitor and Reuters.

President Obama isn’t giving up on transforming the United States into a technology powerhouse.

On Tuesday, he hosted the 2014 White House Science Fair, where more than 100 students exhibited their science projects and experiments from previously won technology, engineering, and math (STEM) competitions across the country.

The White House chose to highlight girls and their inventions at the fair because Obama had stressed the importance of more females majoring in STEM fields in college and working in these industries after they graduate. Among Tuesday’s displays were a “concussion cushion” designed by Maria Hanes, 19, of Santa Cruz, Calif. Hanes, who wants to be the first female collegiate head football coach, invented a football helmet with gel and memory foam inserts that can better prevent concussions.

Two other girls, Olivia Van Amsterdam and Katelyn Sweeney of Natick, Mass., showed the president their ice rescue robot, a remotely operated vehicle for ice search and rescue. The invention can travel on ice and lower a submersible detection device that will assist dive teams searching for objects or bodies underwater in extremely cold conditions.

Obama also took the opportunity to announce new components in his ongoing “Educate to Innovate” campaign, which he launched in November 2009. The new steps he announced include a $35 million Department of Education grant competition to train 100,000 excellent STEM teachers, an expansion of STEM AmeriCorps to provide STEM learning opportunities for 18,000 low-income students this summer, and a national STEM mentoring effort kicking off in seven cities.

“When students excel in math and science, they’re laying the groundwork for helping America compete for the jobs and industries of the future,” Obama said in a release prior to the fair. “That’s why I’m proud to celebrate outstanding students at the White House Science Fair and to announce new steps my administration and its partners are taking to help more young people succeed in these critical subjects.”

The $35 million will help train college students to become STEM teachers. The grant announcement on Tuesday expands, for the first time since 2010, on Obama’s Teacher Quality Partnership grant competition, a competitive grant authorized under the Higher Education Act.

Earlier this year at his State of the Union address, Obama announced a yearlong effort to put an additional 100,000 science teachers in America’s school systems.

At the event on Tuesday, Obama also focused on the importance of girls taking STEM classes and women pursuing science and math in college. According to a study by the American Association of University Women, girls and boys take STEM classes at the same rates in high school. But that changes drastically when women enroll in college and start their careers. Only 25 percent of women in college major in STEM classes, and 24 percent of the STEM workforce is women.

Obama is the first president to host an annual science fair at the White House. He sees the event as critical in propelling students into STEM careers.

“As a society, we have to celebrate outstanding work by young people in science at least as much as we do Super Bowl winners, because superstar biologists and engineers and rocket scientists and robot builders—they don’t always get the attention that they deserve, but they’re what’s going to transform our society,” Obama said on Tuesday.