White House State of STEM (#SoSTEM) Recap

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Whether you are a student (of any level), a parent, or a teacher, you probably have been hearing about the importance of STEM within your respective schools, media and communities.  If you have an interest in STEM careers, issues, and innovaions, today the White House delivered  it’s third annual “State of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math” event which featured special guests and officials from NASA, the federal government, and STEM industries.  Students ranging from elementary school to high school made up the local audience, asking questions and engaging in conversation, with STEM professionals to discuss the latest in innovations in STEM!  Speakers included senior officials with the Office of Science and Technology Policy, NASA, and a Women in STEM panel.  The core message from the multiple speakers and dignitaries was the need to inspire and motivate students to pursue STEM passions and careers.  You can watch the entire event here:

Here is a recap of some of the notable key points of the live event:

Chief Technology Officer of the United States, Megan Smith, opened the event by recollecting how she ended up becoming an engineer.  Ms. Smith worked previously as the Vice President for Google and was one of the individuals responsible for developing Google Earth.  She explained that when she was a child, Jimmy Carter was President and the nation was battling the concerns of energy crisis.  President Carter wanted to reduce our dependence on oil over time and put solar collectors on the White House.   This intrigued Ms. Smith and was the start in her interest in the applications of science and technology for the future.  Her current work has much to do about climate change and studying sea level rise.

Big Takeaway: When learning STEM, you have to start somewhere.  It takes small steps.  You have to crawl first, walk, then run.  Go out and try science.  Do sites like code.org and expose yourself to different interests in STEM.  It may be your passion!


Chief Scientist and Adminstrator from NASA, Charles Bolden, gave a welcome address to introduce the first panel for the event.  A former NASA astronaut himself, Mr. Bolden urged students to get interested and fired up in STEM.  On the day after President Obama’s State of the UnionAddress, he explained to students that exciting things are happening in the nation.  This includes the success of Orion and the plans and progress for getting people to Mars.

Big Takeaway:  What motivates you when things go wrong?  The knowledge that we can change things when things don’t go right.

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NASA Astronauts Barry E. “Butch” Wilmore and Terry Virts, and Italian Air Force Captain Samantha Cristoforetti  served as a live panel and spoke via satellite directly from the International Space Station.  Here are highlights from the Q&A session they did with the students!

Is life in space hard or easy?  Depends on what you are doing!  We are well trained and prepared for all different aspects…launching, science, protocols, and reentry.  Days are long and filled with many tasks.  Keeping mentally tied in all the time can be tiring.  Great environment to work in, fun, floor is ceiling and vice versa.

What is your favorite thing in space? It’s so cool floating!  After a few weeks, you get used to floating and being weightless.  Takes no effort to flip.  (Butch)

What do you have to do to become an astronaut?  There are many paths to becoming an astronaut-military pilots, scientists, engineering, medicine, etc..  The most important thing is to work hard and do well in school.  Choose a career before you become an astronaut that you really love.  It will make you a good candidate.

I heard you all 3D printed a tool?  Did you use it yet?  Yes we did!  We made several items via 3D printing.  They printed the same items on Earth (including a ratchet wrench) as we printed out here.  Everything is bagged up and will be studied.

How is it like being in a space suit when you are outside of the ship?  When you get in a space-walking suit, it is a one-man space ship.  It circulates cold water and oxygen.  It doesn’t have food, but it has a water bag.  The view through the vacuum of space is so clear.  You always send 2 people out at a time and you are never alone.

Before you first went out in space, what intimidated you the most and how did you overcome that?  I had to prepare astronauts to go out into space in suits.  I had their lives in my hands at stake.  It is a very detailed process.  You are in the suit for 5 hours prior to going outside.  The biggest tasks are with the person preparing you to go out.

What kind of work/research are you doing up in space?  We are studying materials science-measuring how materials as they cool they become course and how the molecules change as they solidfy.  We are growing and harvesting plants, and conducting fruit fly experiments.  We have worms that we fed bacteria (salmonella and ecoli) and are studying how the immune system is affected by the disease.

Big takeaway:   Find something you can be passionate about and follow it!


Dr. Jo Handlesman, Assoc Director for Science, discussed the latest in microbiology research studies.  She noted that only a few small number of organisms in the world will actually grow in the lab.  For every one we can grow in the lab and study, there are 100 others that we can’t grow.  How can we study bacterium, fungus, without being able to grow it on a petri dish?  We need current students to figure it out for the future!  We have also have 10 times more bacteria in our human body than we do cells. Some make us sick, and some help us.  It took us about 100 years to realize that most bacteria are good for us.

Big takeaway:  If people tell you girls can’t do science, don’t believe them.  Find people who encourage you (mentors, advisors, friends, relatives, heros) that tell you that you can do this.


NASA Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan led a panel with members of OSTP leadership for a discussion on women in STEM.  The panel featured Lynne Murdock, Kathy Pham, Rachel Harrison-Gordon, Nicole Hernandez Hammer who represented multiple professions including park ranger, planetary geologist, computer science, mechanical engineering, and interdisciplinary scientist for climate change.  They discussed their motivations for pursuing science-from a love of Legos to a love of being outside.  Latest trends in technology that they urged students to consider pursuing for the future included healthcare data and climate change.  Ms. Stofan and Hammer articulated that we need to research how to deal with the effect that the sea level will rise and how are we going to adapt to new environments.  Ms. Stofan also emphasized how research in climate change includes heavy involvement with Mars studies!

Big takeaway:  Don’t let politics get you down.


You can find additional information on the event here and by following #SoSTEM.



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