FYI: The AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News

White House Heralds Major STEM Initiative

Rob Boisseau
Number 140 - November 24, 2009  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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President Obama’s April 27 address (see FYI#49) to the National Academy of Sciences challenged the scientific community to “spend time in the classroom…” to inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers, and innovators.

The scientific community and public and private organizations have met the President’s challenge with the nationwide “Educate to Innovate” campaign.  “Educate to Innovate” will draw attention to the importance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects, boost student interest in STEM fields, and see thousands of volunteer scientists going into classrooms and working with educators. 

The highlight of the “Educate to Innovate” initiative is a “National Lab Day” which will occur the first week of May 2010.  STEM professionals and their employers can volunteer to aid local schools by bringing their expertise into the classroom to demonstrate STEM concepts in experiments, donate or repair lab equipment, arrange or host field trips, and develop or oversee hands-on learning supplements.  Teachers can use the same website to request assistance, materials, and advice from local scientists, engineers, technology professionals, and mathematicians.

The American Institute of Physics, the American Association of Physics Teachers, and the American Physical Society have made a commitment to support this effort, in partnership with leading scientific organizations like the American Chemical Society and IEEE-USA.

Obama announced the “Educate to Innovate” campaign in remarks delivered to participating organizations on November 23.  The President began his remarks by stressing the importance of STEM in all aspects of modern life saying:

“The key to meeting these challenges -- to improving our health and well-being, to harnessing clean energy, to protecting our security, and succeeding in the global economy -- will be reaffirming and strengthening America's role as the world's engine of scientific discovery and technological innovation.  And that leadership tomorrow depends on how we educate our students today, especially in those fields that hold the promise of producing future innovations and innovators.  And that's why education in math and science is so important.” 

After noting that “one assessment shows American 15-year-olds now rank 21st in science and 25th in math…,” Obama promised to move the U.S. “from the middle to the top of the pack in science and math education over the next decade.”

Obama explained that part of that effort is to be advanced through “organizations representing teachers, scientists, mathematicians, and engineers -- joined by volunteers in the community -- are participating in a grassroots effort called "National Lab Day" to reach 10 million young people with hands-on learning.”

Obama also committed to bring winners of national science fair competitions to the White House, just as champion athletes are hosted.

Other components of the “Educate to Innovate” campaign are intended to increase students’ interest in STEM subjects.

 First Lady Michelle Obama appeared in the first episode of Sesame Street’s 40th anniversary season, inaugurating what will be a two-year focus on STEM subjects.  Twenty of the 26 new Sesame Street episodes will feature STEM topics; 13 on science, 7 on math.

Discovery Communications, the parent company of the Discovery Channel and 12 other U.S. networks will develop public service announcements, dedicate a commercial-free educational kids block on the Science Channel, and continue to produce shows dealing with major scientific challenges of our age.  Discovery Communications will also create and distribute free educational programs to approximately 60,000 schools.

Time Warner Cable will encourage students to participate in established after-school STEM activities through its connectamillionminds.com website.  Time Warner Cable will also target 80 percent of its corporate philanthropy to STEM related programs.

Sony Computer Entertainment America’s contribution will surely be greeted with applause by students.  In partnership with the MacArthur Foundation and the Entertainment Software Association, Sony will sponsor a competition to encourage students to develop an addition to the popular video game LittleBigPlanet.

At the end of his remarks, Obama summarized the goal of the “Educate to Innovate” initiative, and the objective of what scientific organizations have been doing for years, saying:

“Improving education in math and science is about producing engineers and researchers and scientists and innovators who are going to help transform our economy and our lives for the better.  But it's also about something more.  It's about expanding opportunity for all Americans in a world where an education is the key to success.  It's about an informed citizenry in an era where many of the problems we face as a nation are, at root, scientific problems.  And it's about the power of science to not only unlock new discoveries, but to unlock in the minds of our young people a sense of promise, a sense that with some hard work -- with effort -- they have the potential to achieve extraordinary things.”

Rob Boisseau
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
rboissea@aip.org
301-209-3094