January 6th, 2010
Today President Barack Obama commended Project Exploration’s Junior Paleontologists program in his remarks to the nation during the second “Educate to Innovate” event. He said,“…whether it’s helping young people from tough neighborhoods in Chicago to become “Junior Paleontologists,” or creating a mentoring program that connects engineering students with girls and minorities, who are traditionally underserved in the field — all of you are demonstrating why teaching and mentoring is so important, and why we have to support you, equip you, and send in some reinforcements for you.”
Before I get to the Presidential remarks, I will go back to the beginning of this incredible day and share some highlights. The 22 Presidential Awardees for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring headed out with our guests to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building for the official award ceremony.
Awards were presented by Dr. John Holdren, Director of Office of Science and Technology Policy and Scientific advisor to the President along with Dr. Aden Bement, Director of the National Science Foundation. But the real stars of the show (other than the awardees) were Dr. Wanda Ward and Dr. Cora Marrett who set the tone of the event with stories from mentees and telling us the event, the day, was more like a commencement than an event – the end of something but also the beginning of something.
We headed out from the award ceremony for a working lunch with representatives from the Office of Science and Technology policy, the National Science Foundation and the Office of White House Council on Women and Girls. Our group by this time had gotten its groove on and we could raise some of the core ideas that taking shape:
We made our way into the White House and took pictures of ourselves with pictures on the walls. Our group finally got settled in the “blue room” where we waited for President Obama. Our room was just above the First Lady’s garden and we craned our necks around the windows for a glimpse. We were hosted by a member of the Navy while we waited for the BIG MOMENT — the MOMENT when President Obama would walk in…. and when he did he looked each person in the eye, shook our hands or gave us a hug and thanked us.
It was just a few minutes but it was GREAT!!!!
Then NEXT the remarks to the press. We had not known until this morning that there would be an event like this. Awardees relocated to the East Room, bedecked with gold, and cameras. Vice President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden were there along with former Chicagoans Secretary Arne Duncan and our Michael Lach.
Arne recognized me and asked congratulated PRoject Exploration. “I hope this is helpful for you – you’re doing such good work.”
President Obama entered to great applause and began his remarks to the Awardees for Mentoring, Awardees for Elementary Science TEaching, a host of staff members involved with Educate to Innovate and the nation.
And the best was about to come.
As he moved into the closing President Obama began to describe what “Educate to Innovate” needed to be about at its heart…. (I’m just going to repeat the opening quote because I’m still a little giddy):“…whether it’s helping young people from tough neighborhoods in Chicago to become “Junior Paleontologists,” or creating a mentoring program that connects engineering students with girls and minorities, who are traditionally underserved in the field — all of you are demonstrating why teaching and mentoring is so important, and why we have to support you, equip you, and send in some reinforcements for you.”
It would be enough to end here but actually the day continued- with an hour-long session with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Dr. Holdren at the Willard Hotel. The two awardee groups were convened for a discussion about what it would take to transform (and fast!) science and mathematics teaching in the United States. The two issues that seemed to resonate most with people: 1) raising teachers’ salaries and 2) overhauling schools of education.
After Duncan and Holdren left, so did the teachers. Mentors had one last round – a discussion with Michael Lach, Steve Robinson and ?Kumar – they were sincerely curious to hear ideas for what could work, what could be scalable, and some easy-to-do things.
- The minorities of science are not just students of color and girls, they are students who come from families who are poor and students who struggle in school. If we want to transform who gets involved with science we need to create access for these students.
- Out-of-school experiences need to be on the table alongside formal K-12 education – and we need to look at the equity of out-of-school science opportunities as a critical factor.
- We need a new metaphor – the pipeline isn’t helping us move forward.
The day closed with a dinner at a nearby restaurant. But what satiated our souls was what filled us up after lunch, a moment for our work to be in the sun.
And for me, and all of us at Project Exploration a dream came true today. The President of the United States held up our program as a national model. Our kids are helping the Nation think about how to change the face of science.
All you JPs out there, all you Sisters4Science, Best Science Program Evah’ members, Dinosaur Giants, Advanced Science Team, All Girls Expedition, Team Leaders, Interns, keynote speakers, today was for you.