Office of Science and Technology Policy Blog

  • Making Makers in Cleveland


    (Photo by Case Western Reserve University’s think[box])

    On June 17th, President Obama hosted the first ever White House Maker Faire, and called on people across the country to join him to spark creativity and invention in their communities.   Responding to his call to action, 150 higher education institutions signed a letter committing to promote making on their campuses.

    Recently I spoke with Ian Charnas, who is the manager of Case Western Reserve University’s think[box].  Case Western is one of the universities that signed the letter, and think[box] is  a makerspace and innovation center designed to provide students, staff, faculty and members of the public with the tools they need to create, build and invent. 

    What resources do students and other users of think[box] currently have access to?

  • Higher Education Institutions Respond to the President’s Call to Support Making on College Campuses

    At the White House Maker Faire last June, more than 150 universities committed to expanding opportunities for Making on their campuses and in their communities. The Maker Faire was one of several OSTP initiatives this year aimed at highlighting the importance of the Maker Movement in creating opportunities for hands-on STEM learning, facilitating entrepreneurship, and expanding advanced manufacturing in the United States. At that event, the President issued a call to action to enable the next generation of innovators to be not just the consumers of things, but the makers of things.

    Today, OSTP Director John Holdren visited Spelman College’s innovation lab and Makerspace. Spelman is one example of the many colleges that are creating opportunities for Making in response to the President’s call. Spelman’s innovation lab is home to the Spelbots, an all-female robotics team that has competed in international robotics competitions and is currently building an autonomous Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) system. 

    As part of the visit to Spelman, Director Holdren discussed how a subset of higher education institutions have come together to form the Make Schools Alliance. This new initiative will provide students with spaces, projects and mentors to engage in hands-on Making activities and boost their interest and persistence in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The Alliance will capture best practices and support research that examines the impact of Making on learning, student retention, and degree completion in STEM fields. It will also serve as a network, dynamic platform, and one-stop online resource for information on higher education institutions regarding initiatives, programs and collaboration that foster Making. Currently, information on nearly 50 colleges and universities can be found on the Alliance’s online platform.

    The Make Schools Alliance builds on a growing momentum in the higher education community to support Making. Earlier this month, members of the Alliance met with Federal agencies, including USAID, CNCS, SBA, NSF and USDA, in Washington, DC to explore potential avenues for broadening accessibility and participation in Making in communities across the country.

    K-12 superintendents, teachers, and organizations across the U.S. have joined the higher education community in creating ways for students to design, tinker, invent, and Make in the classroom and after school. One example is the Roanoke County Public School District in Virginia, which has created Makerspaces for its special education students to solve problems by designing and creating their own solutions. A number of programs being offered by Makerspaces, museums, and educational organizations focus on providing professional development for teachers around integrating Making into curriculum and the use of tools and technologies such as programmable microcontrollers, 3D modeling and 3D printing.

    Building an educational pipeline that will enable students to make throughout K-12 and continue to develop and pursue their interests in STEM, arts, and design in college will be critical to supporting the America’s next generation of problem solvers and innovators. If your educational institution is doing something to engage students in Making, we want to hear about it! Send an email to

    Stephanie Santoso is the OSTP Senior Advisor for Making.

  • Unleashing Climate Data and Innovation for more Resilient Ecosystems


    The EcoINFORMA map viewer available on enables visualizations and mashups of spatial data related to ecosystems, natural resources, and species.

    Ecosystems provide vast services and benefits to humankind: food and water that is needed for survival; nutrients and other natural products that fuel farms and industries; natural controls on many pests and pathogens; storage of carbon safely out of the atmosphere; shared spaces for tourism and recreation; and sanctuaries that preserve biodiversity, natural beauty, and cultural history.

    The Third National Climate Assessment confirms that ecosystems and the benefits they provide to society are being affected by climate change. These changes are having impacts on biodiversity and limiting the capacity of ecosystems—including forests, barrier beaches, and wetlands— to continue to play their roles in reducing the impacts of extreme events on infrastructure, human communities, and other valued resources.

    Land and water managers, environmental planners, and those who rely on ecosystems to support and run businesses need easy, intuitive access to the most accurate and relevant available information about climate change in order to make informed decisions on the ground.

    Today, in an important milestone to help achieve this goal, the Department of Interior and other Executive Branch agencies and offices are releasing, on, new troves of government data on water and ecosystems, as well as new geospatial tools, as part of the President’s Climate Data Initiative.  Earlier installments of that initiative focused on data relating to sea-level rise, flood risk, and agriculture.

    The newly released datasets—which include critical information about streamflow, soil, landcover, and biodiversity and are complemented by tools to overlay and visualize them—will be extremely valuable to natural-resource managers faced with day-to-day and long-term strategic decisions about how to operate in the context of climate change.

    In a further step to make these data as useful as possible, today a host of public, nonprofit, and private-sector organizations made commitments to devote resources, expertise, and technological capabilities to leverage climate data in ways that make the Nation’s ecosystems and water resources more resilient to the impacts of climate change. 

    For example, Amazon Web Services (AWS) has committed to make a petabyte of Earth-imagery data from the U.S. Geological Survey widely available as an AWS public dataset; the University of Maryland’s Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center has committed to fund 25 early-career scholars as they conduct research at the nexus of water systems, food systems, and climate change; Esri will stand up a Water Open Data portal to extend accessibility of key water data through interactive services and tools by which selected data can be downloaded in various formats through an intuitive user interface; and HP has announced a partnership with the Camera Trap Data Network to create new data-sharing and analytic tools that allow users to access and analyze millions of camera-trap images and related data about threatened species and biodiversity.

    • Read the full set of commitments launched today here.
    • Read the Department of Interior's Press Release here.
    • Read more about the President’s Climate Data Initiative here.
    • Access here.

    Dr. John P. Holdren is Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy 

  • Accelerating Access to Innovation and Saving Children’s Lives

    “HIV/AIDS affects all of us, no matter where we live or who we are.   And we know it’s our responsibility, as part of our common humanity, to help get medicine to the people who need it.”

    - President Obama, World AIDS Day, December 1, 2014

    Increasing access to medicines has been a priority of the U.S. government’s response to the global HIV/AIDS epidemic for over a decade.  Since the start of President Obama’s Administration, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has achieved a four-fold increase and is now providing 7.7 million people with life-saving antiretroviral (ARV) treatment worldwide.  Despite this historic progress, the sobering reality is that 3 out of 5 people living with HIV/AIDS globally still do not have access to the treatment they need to live healthy and productive lives.  And only 1 in 4 of the 3.2 million children living with HIV/AIDS worldwide are today receiving treatment.  This World AIDS Day, OSTP and PEPFAR celebrated efforts that enable the fruits of science and technology to accelerate innovation and increase access to life-saving HIV treatment around the world.

  • More than 100 Bold New STEM Commitments as Part of the White House College Opportunity Day of Action

    President Barack Obama Delivers Remarks During the White House College Opportunity Day of Action

    President Barack Obama delivers remarks during the White House College Opportunity Day of Action summit at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C., Dec. 4, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

    Yesterday, President Obama, Vice President Biden, and the First Lady joined college presidents and other education leaders from around the nation at the second White House College Opportunity Day of Action, where organizations announced over 500 new actions to help more students prepare for and graduate from college. As part of this convening, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy worked with college and university presidents, leaders of philanthropy and non-profit organizations, and CEOs of private sector companies to generate 110 bold new commitments to increase STEM degree access, preparation, and completion for more students from low income and underserved backgrounds in addition to women and minorities currently underrepresented in STEM fields. 

    Maintaining the momentum from the January College Opportunity Summit, OSTP organized regional convenings on improving STEM undergraduate learning on college campuses this past fall, to learn the progress being made by institutions and organizations who made January commitments and to broaden the coalition for yesterday’s Day of Action. 

    Among the 110 new initiatives and actions to improve STEM college completion being announced yesterday, are efforts to: increase STEM graduation rates at college and universities up to 35% over the next 5 to 10 years—producing thousands of more students that help us reach the Administration’s goal of 1 million additional STEM graduates by 2022, expand mentoring, financial aid, tutoring, and internships for women and minorities pursuing STEM fields, move away from traditional lecture-based courses to more active classrooms that encourage students to solve problems in small groups and hands-on experiments and modeling- methods that both increase student learning and student retention in STEM majors, and make progress on the Administration’s goal to prepare more excellent K-12 teachers with expertise in STEM areas. 

    For example:

    • California State University Los Angeles, which serves as a gateway to higher education for youth in East Los Angeles where over 95 percent of residents are Hispanic and more than 25 percent live below the poverty line, seeks to increase the number of STEM degrees awarded to underrepresented minorities by 25 percent in the next five years through a summer bridge program and focusing on the first year experience of students in the College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Technology.
    • Dallas County Community College District committed to implementing a number of interconnected strategies to identify, recruit, and support more low-income, female, and underrepresented STEM students culminating in an additional 1200 students annually by 2020 with a graduation rate better than 50 percent.
    • Florida International University (FIU), a minority serving institution with over 11,000 STEM majors approximately 8,800 of whom are from groups underrepresented in STEM, commits to increasing overall STEM graduate rates by 10%, through providing faculty with the time and funding to receive professional development in evidence-based teaching methods and integrating the culture of evidence-based instruction into faculty assignments, evaluation, tenure, and promotion processes.
    • Through its collaborative engineering program initiative with the University of Texas (UT) at Tyler, Houston Community College (HCC) committed to increase the number of engineering college graduates by 200 students annually, particularly those from underrepresented groups).  The increase would reflect a 20% and 15% completion rate, respectively, for HCC and UT Tyler.
    • Nebraska Wesleyan University commits to improving second-year retention in STEM fields by 15 percent over the three years by overhauling introductory biology courses to connect students to scientific research earlier in their STEM college career.
    • Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) commits to increase STEM degree completion by 15 percent, and to double the number of underrepresented minority students enrolled in a STEM degree program, through offering opportunities for STEM experiential learning, as well as supporting academic departments to implement evidence-based teaching practices in introductory courses, including course-based research experiences.
    • Over the coming year, the Helmsley Charitable Trust expects to commit an additional $10 million in funds to support nationally scalable efforts, particularly among community colleges and institutions that serve less resourced communities of students to support STEM student success.
    • Eight individual initiatives or institutions – including the State University of New York (SUNY), Uteach in partnership with the National Math and Science Initiative, CalTeach in the California State University System, Southern Connecticut State University, Westminster College, Stetson University, and Temple University – will prepare more than 10,000 excellent K-12 teachers with expertise in STEM fields to inspire the next generation of STEM innovators.  This represents continued progress on the President’s goal to produce an additional 100,000 excellent K-12 STEM teachers over a decade.

    The day featured new Administration commitments, including the release of a Dear Colleagues letter from the National Science Foundation (NSF) calling for proposals to pilot innovations for helping students learn the mathematics taught in the first two years of college and to plan and execute workshops in 2015 on using research to improve student success in mathematics in the first two years of college. Programs supporting this work in the Directorate for Education and Human Resources include Improving Undergraduate STEM Education, Advanced Technological Education, Historically Black Colleges and Universities Undergraduate Program, Tribal Colleges and Universities Program, Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers, and Discovery Research K-12.

    Improving STEM degree completion was one of four key action areas for the Day of Action which also included, building networks of colleges focused on promoting completion, creating K-16 partnerships around college readiness, and investing in high school counselors as part of the First Lady’s Reach Higher initiative.

    Learn More:

  • Statement by John P. Holdren on the Successful Test Launch and Recovery of the Orion Spacecraft

    Upon successful launch and recovery of the Orion spacecraft on Friday, December 5, 2014, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John P. Holdren issued the following statement:

    "With today’s successful test launch and recovery of the Orion spacecraft, NASA has taken an important step towards the goal of human exploration of the solar system.  Support from private-sector aerospace partners for the Orion effort – as well as for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to develop safe, reliable, and cost-effective access to and from space – reflects the Administration’s commitment to create jobs, bolster the American economy, and build the strongest commercial space industry in the world.  President Obama’s vision is to develop a balanced space program that supports a sustainable human exploration program, expands scientific knowledge, and invests in transformational technologies that will greatly increase our capabilities in space.  We congratulate the men and women of NASA and their commercial partners for this successful test launch, and we look forward to future milestones on the journey to Mars."