President Barack Obama had the privilege to meet with several young scientists from Detroit Public Schools Tuesday at the second annual White House Science Fair.
Students from O.W. Holmes Elementary-Middle School and Paul Robeson, Malcolm X Academy participated in the event, which encourages young people to engage with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects.
One hundred students from more than 45 states participated in the White House exhibition.
Suzan Shalhout, 12, a seventh-grader at O.W. Holmes Elementary-Middle School in Detroit, said the event was really fun.
"I never thought I'd meet the president. I only thought I'd maybe see him from far away," she said. "But I never thought I'd be able to talk to him and shake hands with him. He said 'Keep up the good work' to me."
For her science fair project, Shalhout conducted a scientific analysis of tap water in various Southeast Michigan communities in order to determine the safest ones for residents to drink.
The Paul Robeson, Malcolm X Academy team created an "Energy Efficient City of the Future." Students Lucas Cain Beal, Jayla Mae Dogan, and Ashley Cassie Thomas were part of the team, which won the Excellence in Engineering Award at the 2012 Michigan Regional Competition for their efforts.
"This project is significant to our students because it shows them by creating a walking neighborhood, you can engineer a community where crime has decreased, safety increases, and poverty is decreased as well," said Robeson teacher Derek Sale.
The President's Council of Advisors in Science and Technology released a report earlier this week finding a need for 1 million college graduates with degrees in STEM subjects over the next decade.
At the science fair, President Obama announced several STEM-related policy initiatives:
- A priority on undergraduate STEM education reform in the President’s upcoming budget, including a $100 million investment by the National Science Foundation to improve undergraduate STEM education practices.
- A new K-16 education initiative jointly administered by Department of Education and the National Science Foundation to improve math education
- Commitments from private sector groups and coalitions to do more to get students excited about STEM-related
- New policies to recruit, support, retain and reward excellent STEM teachers, along with an $80 million investment in the President's upcoming budget to help prepare effective STEM teachers.
- A new $22 million investment from the philanthropic and private sector to complement the Administration's teacher preparation efforts.
DPS has declared STEM an academic priority, emphasizing math and science in its curriculum and increasing student participation in science fairs.
Andrew B. Raupp, the founder and director of Initiative Science, an organization that does STEM outreach with 84 Metro Detroit schools, told The Huffington Post the White House event was "a wonderful achievement and draws additional much needed positive attention to our area."
But Raupp thinks DPS still needs to work on its commitment to science and engineering programming, citing what he considers a too-narrow focus on reading and math in the classroom.
Raupp conceded that emphasis isn't surprising, because federal Annual Yearly Progress reports measure those subjects -- not science. And he said DPS's recent partnership with the Cranbrook Science Museum indicated the district is making progress in STEM programming.
In the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 74 percent of Detroit's fourth-graders scored below "basic" in science, and 80 percent of eighth-graders scored similarly.
For reading, 69 percent of fourth-graders and 57 percent of eighth-graders scored below basic, according to NAEP.