The event included a panel of some of the leading technology experts across the nation taking questions, and although reporters were present, it was the children asking the hardball questions. The prestigious panel included Director of White House Office of Science and Technology Policy John Holdren, iTriage CEO Peter Hudson, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park, NASA Deputy Director Lori Gravier, Jack Andraka, and Mars Science Laboratory Flight Director Bobak Ferdowsi. Each presenter shared some information about the importance of technology today before fielding questions from the audience. The children certainly were able to link current affairs with STEM, as one student asked about whether Germany's approach to education would be duplicated here in the United States and another asked what role private research and companies would play in NASA's future.
The panel also took questions about the education and work that led to their current endeavors, encouraging students to make the most of their science and technology learning and helping students to link school material with real world applications. The panel's broad range of age and experience was a positive factor for showing students the many ways in which STEM education serves important purposes far beyond the classroom.
The lens on science, math, engineering, and technology is certainly not surprising given recent data that while many U.S. students possess the aptitude for successful careers in these fields, many aren't performing at the level that they should be. One recent study placed United States students as 21st out of 30 countries when it came to science literacy, and national math tests from 2009 indicated no growth for 4th graders. As educators, administrators, and policymakers collaborate to find ways to close this gap, Obama is spearheading the effort to improve literacy in these subjects, expand career opportunities, and initiate programs that bring more students into these sectors.
Providing students the opportunity to speak with successful leaders in various fields certainly connects classroom concepts to exciting careers, but it also inspires students to be innovators themselves, using tools they have learned to problem-solve. These problem-solving skills will certainly be relevant in any career choice, and they are an important part of learning the critical thinking process.
Some of the administration's efforts in supporting STEM include a nationwide science fair, national design competitions, promotion of the non-profit organization Change the Equation in connecting businesses with education, and a media campaign designed to educate and inspire children around the country.
In an increasingly technologically dependent world, the future of the workforce is one in which employees must be prepared to create solutions, one of the key tenets of all four fields. The commitment to improvements in awareness and STEM education is a critical step towards preparing America's students to build their own future.