Office of Science and Technology Policy Blog

  • Mentoring Tomorrow’s STEM Innovators

    Barbara Deschamp considers herself one of the lucky ones. When asked what advice she would pass on to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) students looking for a mentor, she said: “I’m actually lucky because my mentor found me!” Barbara was mentored by one of a select cohort of past winners of a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM)—bestowed by the President upon extraordinary Americans who are guiding and shaping the next generation of STEM innovators through mentorship.

    Last week, marking the close of National Mentoring Month in January, the National Science Foundation (NSF) hosted a Google+ Hangout that convened past PAESMEM winners to share ideas and best practices for engaging students from underrepresented groups in STEM fields.

    In addition to Barbara, who is a Ph.D. candidate in the Electrical and Computer Engineering program at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and her mentor, Charles Thompson, the Hangout invited NSF and OSTP officials and other past PAESMEM winners to tell their own mentorship stories, including Frank Bayliss of San Francisco State University’s Department of Biology; Sheryl Burgstahler of the University of Washington’s College of Education; and Lesia Crumpton-Young from the University of Central Florida’s Department of Engineering.

    These all-star STEM mentors discussed the experiences that shaped their careers, and how they are paying it forward by providing mentorship to their own students.

    Frank Bayliss, for example, was the first in his family to attend college, let alone pursue a PhD. He likened his experience to “going into a jungle without a machete, without a compass, no water filter, no idea what I was doing and getting lost.” He then explained, “mentoring is kind of like being a guide,” and along with the other participants emphasized the necessity of mentorship in helping students, especially those from underrepresented communities, navigate the many steps and phases of pursuing a career in STEM fields.  As NSF Assistant Director Joan Ferrini-Mundy—who leads the agency’s Education and Human Resources Directorate—pointed out, research in this area has provided evidence that mentoring is, in fact, a key part of keeping diverse students engaged.

  • President Obama Welcomes 2013 Fermi Award Winners to the White House

    Fermi Award Greet

    President Barack Obama meets with 2013 Fermi Award recipients Professor Allen J. Bard, left, and Dr. Andrew Sessler in the Oval Office, Feb. 3, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    Today, President Obama and the US Department of Energy honored two exceptional scientists whose long and productive research careers earned them one of the Nation’s oldest and most prestigious honors for scientific achievement: the Enrico Fermi Award.

    Bestowed annually upon a select few of the Nation’s most outstanding scientists, the Fermi Award recognizes individuals for their distinguished leadership, accomplishments, and service related to science and research supported by the Energy Department. Established in 1956, the award is named in honor of the Nobel-Prize-winning physicist who in 1942 achieved the first nuclear chain reaction, initiating the atomic age.

    This afternoon, President Obama greeted the latest winners: Dr. Allen J. Bard, of The University of Texas at Austin, and Dr. Andrew Sessler of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.  OSTP Director John Holdren introduced the winners in the Oval Office, along with Energy Department Secretary Ernest Moniz. Later in the day, the awardees were honored at a formal ceremony at the Energy Department headquarters.

    Dr. Bard, known by many as the “father of modern electrochemistry,” helped lay the groundwork for critical advances in batteries, fuel cells, and solar photoelectrochemistry—work that has emerged as having great importance in the modern field of renewable energy. Dr. Bard’s scientific achievements previously earned him the National Medal of Science, the American Chemical Society’s Priestly Medal, the Welch Foundation Award in Chemistry, and the Wolf Foundation Prize. His research has led to the publication of more than 850 peer-reviewed papers, 75 book chapters, and 23 patents, and he has served as a mentor and collaborator to 83 Ph.D. students, 18 M.S. students, 190 postdoctoral associates, and many more young scientists.

    Dr. Sessler has worked extensively to promote energy efficiency and sustainable energy research and was a pioneer in the development and use of atomic particle accelerators as powerful tools of scientific discovery. Dr. Sessler’s advocacy in the field of energy efficiency research dates back to the 1950s and 1960s at the Atomic Energy Commission and the Energy Department; later, as the Director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, he established new divisions for energy and environmental research. He is widely recognized for his fierce advocacy in support of scientific freedom and for human rights of scientists around the globe.

    In a landscape shifting and evolving as rapidly as the energy sector is today, it is vitally important that the United States continues to lead in energy-related scientific research and innovation. OSTP salutes these two Fermi Award winners, not only for the remarkable impacts they have had in their respective fields but also for the influence they have had—and the inspiration they have showered—on countless other scientists.

    Fae Jencks is a Confidential Assistant at the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy 

  • National Commission Begins Work to Strengthen Forensic Science

    This morning, the National Forensic Science Commission , a new Federal Advisory Committee jointly chaired by the Department of Justice and the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology, is meeting for the first time to begin its important work of strengthening the forensic sciences.  OSTP Director John Holdren will welcome the Commission to underscore the White House’s support for this important effort and to encourage the group to take full advantage of its unique opportunity to make a difference in this challenging arena of science and policy.

    The standing up of the Commission is one of a series of efforts this Administration has undertaken to improve the forensic sciences, which span across a wide range of disciplines from DNA and fingerprints, to tire and tread marks, to ballistics, handwriting, and trace-chemical analyses.  This morning, OSTP released a progress report on some of Administration’s achievements in the domains of forensic science research, practice, and policy that promise to undergird and complement the Commission’s work. 

    The Commission’s members—an  impressive array of stakeholders with a breadth of expertise and experience—are  well poised to take on the challenging tasks outlined in the Commission’s Charter, which include providing recommendations and advice to the Department of Justice concerning strategies for strengthening the validity and reliability of the forensic sciences, enhancing quality assurance and quality control in forensic labs, and identifying and recommending protocols for evidence collection, analysis, and reporting. 

  • STEM...and the Super Bowl!

    President Obama has stressed time and again that the health and longevity of America’s economy and environment depends in large part on the acceleration of the kinds of innovations that lead to new breakthrough technologies, inspire new industries, and safeguard our communities. 

    In his State of the Union Address just last week, the President said:

    “We know that the nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow.  This is an edge America cannot surrender.”

    That’s why the Obama Administration is taking steps to ensure that the Nation’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce is equipped with the education and skills to discover, create, and invent. And the Federal Government isn’t acting alone. Partners in the private sector, non-profit organizations, philanthropies, colleges and universities, and in State and local governments are stepping up across the country to do their part—by developing mentorship programs, leading extra-curricular activities, and contributing their time, resources, and talents to help get kids inspired and engaged in all things STEM.

    Ahead of Super Bowl Sunday, I had a chance to catch up with one such partner, who is harnessing his football fame to highlight the importance of STEM education: New York Giants wide-receiver Victor Cruz.  Here’s what he had to say:

  • Second Annual White House Safety Datapalooza

    Earlier this month, more than 300 public safety stakeholders from the private, nonprofit, and academic sectors participated in the Second Annual White House Safety Datapalooza. The event showcased innovators who have utilized freely available government data to build products, services, and apps aimed at empowering Americans with information to make smarter, safer choices— from the vehicles we drive to patterns of crime in our neighborhoods to the products we buy and the food we eat.

    At the event, top officials from across the Administration discussed how Federal agencies are working to tap into the power of open data to advance public safety in creative and powerful ways. Announcements and new commitments from the public and private sector included:

    • The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs highlighted a new Application Programming Interface (API) that allows developers to integrate Travel Warning and Travel Alert datasets into websites and mobile applications, including tourism guides and online travel websites, so that U.S. citizens have information about international travel risks—such as health alerts, ongoing crime and violence, or frequent terrorist attacks.
    • The White House, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Department of Energy launched standardized hashtags (#PowerLineDown #NoFuel and #GotFuel ) to enable citizens to report important emergency information, such as downed power lines or whether a gas station has fuel, across social media platforms during a disaster. The Weather Channel has committed to publicizing these hashtags to its 100 million+ web visitors and TV viewers. Geofeedia, a social media monitoring service, committed to offering a free version of their service to first responders, disaster survivors, utility companies, and Federal, state, and local governments.

  • Robots, Spaceflight, and America’s Open-Data Treasure Chest addressed at White House “State of STEM” Event for Kids

    Today, two people who have slept in outer space, two young STEM prodigies, eight astronauts-in-training, one roboticist, and three of President Obama’s top science, technology, and innovation officials walked into a room…

    SoSTEM Hudy JPH

    Dr. John P. Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy, left, smiles along with 16-year-old Joey Hudy, a former White House Science Fair participant and self-described “Maker” at the annual White House State of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (SoSTEM) address, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington. (Photo by NASA/Bill Ingalls)

    Then, so did nearly 100 inquisitive DC-area middle- and high-schoolers and five kid-reporters from Time Magazine for Kids, National Geographic for Kids, and Montgomery Blair High School’s Silver Chips online newspaper. Together, this cadre comprised the second-ever State of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math – or “SoSTEM ” –  event at the White House.

    Yes, this morning, in celebration of President Obama’s passionate STEM-centric messages at last night’s State of the Union address, the White House convened a portion of the Nation’s geeky brain trust, along with America’s next generation of innovators and budding reporters to discuss steps the Administration is taking to continue the tradition of scientific breakthroughs and discoveries that has long made our country great.