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2013 sostem meeting A panel of experts talk about STEM issues at the first-ever SoSTEM event, held at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C. on February 13, 2013. (Photo courtesy Emily Shao)

SoSTEM, SoCOOL!

Experts give first-ever update on the state of STEM in America

By Emily Shao | February 22 , 2013

Last Wednesday, nearly 100 people filled a meeting room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. They were there for the nation's first ever State of STEM event, SoSTEM.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy hosted the event the day after President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address.

The SoSTEM panel of experts included scientists, inventors, and administrators who do science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) jobs and work with STEM issues.

The event began with an enthusiastic opening speech from Dr. John Holdren. Dr. Holdren is the Assistant to the President for Science and Technology.

"The President has said repeatedly that the single most important thing that we can do for the future of our country is to lift STEM education," Dr. Holdren said. "Much of the growth and much of the success for our nation since its founding has been built on the advance of STEM and innovation."

Education was a big part of the SoSTEM discussion.

One of the first questions from the audience was, "Are we going to bring Germany's higher education standards to this country?"

This referred to a moment in the President's State of the Union speech where he said, "Countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree."

"The answer is, we're a different country, with different circumstances," Dr. Holdren said. "I don't think we'll import Germany's approach exactly, but we are completely committed to lifting our gain [in STEM education] in this country."

In the audience were middle- and high-school students and Girl Scouts from the Washington, D.C. area. They also had questions about STEM education – especially the balance between liberal arts and STEM classes.

"Our focus on STEM has not been motivated by the view that the humanities and arts are less important," Dr. Holden said. "But this is a domain that too many kids who start out interested in STEM fields lose interest because of reasons that are fixable [with a stronger STEM curriculum]."

Other kids wanted to know how the Obama administration will encourage more girls to get involved in STEM.

Dr. Holdren said there's a White House council for women and girls that brings in leading women scientists and engineers to inspire audiences.

The people at SoSTEM didn't have to look far for inspiration.

On the panel was NASA Deputy Director Dr. Lori Garver. Dr. Garver shared her experiences as a woman in a STEM career. She mentioned how she began in a liberal arts college, and after dozens of years of hard work finally rose to her position as NASA deputy director.

Dr. Garver – along with fellow NASA engineer and SoSTEM panelist Bobak Ferdowsi – also excited the audience by describing the current and planned NASA expedition. (Ferdowsi is the flight director of the Mars Curiosity rover mission.)

The other panelists – Todd Park, the nation's Chief Technology Officer; Peter Hudson, CEO of iTriage; and Jake Andraka, 2012 Intel Science Fair grand prize winner – also had cool stories and experiences to share with the audience.

But Andraka really dazzled the audience.

At 15, Jake won the Intel Science Fair grand prize for inventing a sensor that detects pancreatic cancer. He described researching the cancer on Google and Wikipedia, designing sensors, testing them on mice, and finally building a sensor that is almost 100 percent accurate!

Jake's story awed the kids and adults at SoSTEM. His accomplishment left a lasting impression about the importance of STEM – to kids and the country.

Check out Kid Reporter Emily Shao's interview with Bobak Ferdowsi. And let us know how important you think STEM education is on the Scholastic News Kids Press Corps Blog!

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