Last week was an extraordinarily busy week for President Obama, but that didn’t stop him from taking time on two separate occasions to salute some of our Nation’s most outstanding teachers and early-career researchers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. On Monday, the President welcomed to the White House the 85 newest recipients of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor bestowed upon scientists and engineers in the early stages of their independent research careers. And on Thursday the newest recipients of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST)—103 of the Nation’s best middle- and high-school teachers in math and science—met with the President, who showered them with praise for giving students the preparation they will need in order to devise innovative solutions to the challenges facing our Nation.
Both awards recognize individuals who are working to ensure that the United States remains a global leader in science and technology for generations to come. By shining a spotlight on teachers who are getting kids excited about science and math in novel and effective ways—and on scientists and engineers who, early in their careers, have already distinguished themselves as cutting-edge researchers and community leaders—the awards help keep the pipeline of American ingenuity flowing.
PECASE awardees are selected on the basis of two criteria: pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and a commitment to community service, as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach. Nominations are submitted by 10 participating Federal agencies and departments whose missions have strong science and technology components. Winners are chosen from a larger pool of researchers who have received a grant of up to five years to further their research in support of critical government missions.
The PAEMST award recognizes outstanding primary-school math and science teachers and is administered by the National Science Foundation on behalf of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. The award alternates each year between teachers of grades K-6 and grades 7-12. Recipients are given a $10,000 award and an expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., for an awards ceremony and several days of educational and celebratory events. Those events this year included visits with OSTP Associate Director for Science Carl Wieman—a noted STEM education researcher and Nobel laureate, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, National Science Foundation Director Subra Suresh, and Members of Congress.
In a speech he delivered at the award ceremony for the PAEMST awardees, OSTP Director John Holdren underscored just how important top-notch math and science teaching is to the Nation’s future:
“What I see in this room is some of our country’s best kindling,” Dr. Holdren said, referring to the teachers. “You are here this evening because you know how to spread the spark of curiosity, feed the flame of enthusiasm, and help bring fully to life within your students the burning desire to learn more, to consume the knowledge and the experience you bring to the classroom…. Remember you are fanning embers—generating sparks—that in the years ahead will catalyze enormous change and will surely make our world a better and brighter place. For that I am truly grateful, and I thank you for your work.”
Congratulations to the recipients of these prestigious awards!