by Kenneth Corbin

STEM Education Gets Boost From White House

News Analysis
May 28, 20144 mins
GovernmentIT Skills

President Barack Obama has announced new, expanded programs to get more students enrolled in science, tech, engineering and math courses.

WASHINGTON — The White House today unveiled several new steps to bolster education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, with a particular focus on encouraging girls and women to pursue the STEM fields.

President Obama made the announcement in an address marking the annual White House Science fair, which drew more than 100 students from more than 30 states.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education

“Our job is to make sure that you’ve got everything you need to continue on this path of discovery, experimentation and innovation,” Obama said in an address in the White House East Room.

Cisco, Other Vendors Advocating STEM Education

The science fair has become an occasion for the administration to tout its efforts to boost STEM education and training, a key policy agenda for many companies in the tech sector — some of which, such as Cisco Systems and SanDisk, have partnered with the US2020 program to encourage STEM mentorship.

As part of today’s announcement, San Francisco, Chicago and five other cities launched campaigns under the auspices of US2020 to connect students with mentors from local companies who work in the STEM fields. The seven cities will receive financial support for their tech mentoring campaigns, proposals for which they submitted along with dozens of other cities in a competition sponsored by Cisco that was announced at last year’s White House Science Fair.

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While the White House initiative aims to broaden participation in the STEM fields among all demographics, Obama highlighted the disproportionately low involvement of women in those disciplines. Of all computer science and engineering degrees awarded, fewer than one in five goes to a woman, he said. Similarly, women account for fewer than 30 percent of science and engineering jobs.

“We’ve got to change those numbers,” Obama said. “These are the fields of the future. This is where the good jobs are going to be. And I want America to be home for those jobs.”

Department of Education, AmeriCorps Also Targeting STEM

In an effort to help even out that imbalance, the White House is expanding its Educate to Innovate campaign to include a $35 million grant competition the Department of Education is adding to its Teacher Quality Partnership, which funds programs that support the professional development of educators. The new tranche of the TQP program will favor STEM-focused programs, and is being billed as the next phase of Obama’s overarching goal of training an additional 100,000 high-quality STEM teachers by 2020.

Additionally, this summer the STEM AmeriCorps is set to ratchet up its efforts to reach low-income communities, planning to expand its programs to provide educational opportunities to another 18,000 economically disadvantaged students.

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Obama recalled last week, when the White House hosted the Seattle Seahawks, last year’s Super Bowl winners. It has become custom for the winners of major championships in professional and college sports to drop by the White House for a visit, but Obama told the assembled students in the East Room that their pursuit of STEM studies is in service of a higher calling.

“I believe that what’s being done by these amazing young people who I had a chance to meet is even more important. And I’m a big sports fan — everybody knows that,” Obama said. “But what’s happening here is more important. They don’t always get the attention that they deserve, but they’re the ones who are going to transform our society.”

Kenneth Corbin is a Washington, D.C.-based writer who covers government and regulatory issues for Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.