President Obama announces major STEM initiative

Last week, surrounded by a cadre of big name CEOs, scientists, astronauts and educators, President Obama announced a major addition to the STEM program Educate to Innovate. The new initiative is a non-profit organization called Change the Equation, and is composed of hundreds of CEOs from large corporations dependent on science and math students, as well as science museums, libraries and even Nature Publishing – the group that owns Scientific American and the journal Nature.

In a public-private partnership backed by millions in donations from corporate America, the non-profit will focus specifically on improving science and technology teachers and inspiring kids to pursue degrees in the sciences.

In his speech on Thursday, President Obama said that while profits might come from innovations at research labs and workshops, they don’t start there. “It starts when a child learns that every star in the night sky is another sun,” Obama said, “when a young girl swells with accomplishment after solving a tough math problem, when a young boy builds a model rocket and watches it soar, when an eager student peers through a microscope and discovers a whole new world. It’s in these moments that we see why a quality education in science and math matters.”

Highlighting the obvious – that America’s science education trails the developed world significantly (and was recently ranked 21st in science and 25th in math) – the president said “America doesn’t play for second place, and it certainly doesn’t play for 25th.”

Among the specifics mentioned, the following initiatives were put out in the press release accompanying the announcement. For a full description of the programs, see the WH press release.

* A “Youth Inspired Challenge” from the Association of Science-Technology Centers and local corporate and foundation support, it’s being backed by 2 million promised hours of science enrichment to 25,000 students in 50 states.

* “Transforming Libraries and Museums into 21st Century Learning Labs” with $4 million from IMLS and the MacArthur Foundation, the effort will create 30 “YOUMedia centers” that are intended to be “hubs for youth engagement, creativity and hands-on learning,” intended to inspire young people to create things rather than consume them.

* A “National STEM Video Game Challenge” put together by the Entertainment Software Association, Microsoft, AMD and several partners the effort will create a twice yearly competition for middle-school students creating and playing video games with 50k in prize money. The video games are to focus on STEM educational content.

* A “STEM Tool for State Policymakers” backed by $55 million from Raytheon, the tool will use the corporation’s expertise and workers to help empower state level policymakers with ways to expand the STEM workforce in ways that utilize each states unique assets.

* An effort from the National Math Science Initiative designed to help military families excel in science and technology by expanding access to STEM AP classes in schools that serve a large number of military families. “NMSI’s support program for AP classes will make it possible to offer college-level courses for children in military families that will travel with them if they are transferred because the AP curriculum is consistently uniform regardless of the district they may attend.”

* “Bridge to Science” from Nature Publishing will focus on building connections between parents, students and scientists. It will do this by “providing parents with easy-to-do experiments and creating an online platform for parents and children to become ‘citizen scientists’. In addition, Nature and its affiliated journals will provide cost-free professional development for biology teachers interested in incorporating cutting-edge science, and recruit 1000 scientist-readers to participate in classrooms through efforts such as National Lab Day.”

* An effort to bring the “passions of scientists and engineers into classrooms” with massive volunteering from HP employees nationwide to improve STEM education. In addition, the company will recruit retired scientists and engineers, and then match donations for volunteer hours. It will also collaborate with and National Lab Day

* A “Scientists in the Classroom” campaign that aims to train and then deploy company scientists to work with teachers and students in classroom labs. The effort is backed by eight biotech companies and $4 million to date. “In partnership with efforts such as Citizen Schools and National Lab Day, the program will be launched in communities this fall in 10 states, reaching a run-rate of 1000 life scientists assisting in schools over five years.”

* Additionally, ExxonMobil has committed to give $120 million to STEM education over the next three years, focusing on already successful programs such as UTeach. Merck is giving $19.5 million and partnering with Newark Public Schools, which are near the company’s facilities, “to co-design an intensive professional development program for both teachers and administrators, expanding every year with the goal of district-wide adoption.”

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