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White House Boosts STEM Education

Tom Kalil, deputy director for policy for the White House Office of Science and Technology, speaks to students about STEM education and efforts to promote “maker” movement.

“I have a really cool job: I work for President Obama and I get to come up with ideas in the area of science and technology that I think he should be paying more attention to,” said Tom Kalil, deputy director for the White House Office of Science and Technology, in his opening remarks to a group of students from TransTech STEM Academy during an event at GE Garages in Washington.

Obama is interested in how to get more students energized about STEM topics: science, technology, engineering, and math, Kalil went on to say. One of the bigger challenges, Kalil said, is “how to make STEM more exciting.” To that end the White House is focusing on bolstering support for the “maker movement,” he added.

The ability to think up, design, and then manufacture a product at a local facility is becoming a powerful incentive for STEM education, Kalil said, noting, “the tools to design and make something and then raise the money to actually make it are becoming democratized.”

Earlier this year, Kalil wrote on the White House blog about federal agencies that are supporting the maker movement:

DARPA, the agency that gave us the Internet and GPS, is investing heavily in the tools needed to democratize design and manufacturing.  As part of this effort, they have launched a program called MENTOR, with the goal of empowering students from 1,000 high schools to design and build things like robots and go-carts. DARPA and the Department of Veterans Affairs are teaming up with TechShop to open up new locations near Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh that will be open to veterans and to researchers working on DARPA projects in flexible manufacturing. NASA is promoting “Do It Yourself” space projects, such as “smartphones in space,” to dramatically increase the number of people involved in space exploration. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is encouraging all agencies to provide R&D funding for entrepreneurs with good ideas for low-cost instruments and kits for Makers and citizen scientists.

The White House will launch an “all-hands-on-deck” effort later this year to promote the maker movement to students and entrepreneurs, he wrote.

“Your generation is the first to really make the most” of all these new tools, Kalil told the students. “So… do something awesome!”

This article originally appeared on Ideas Laboratory.

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