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From Mohawks to Making, New Steps to Mobilize the Science Talent in Federal Agencies

Last week, the President called the Mars Science Lab Team and a “special Mohawk guy” and pointed out how their work on Curiosity was inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers.
Mohawk Guy

Bobak Ferdowsi--or NASA's "Mohawk Guy". (Photo courtesy NASA)

President Obama strongly believes that inspiring boys and girls to excel in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education is critical to our Nation’s future. Just last week, the President called the Mars Science Lab Team and a “special Mohawk guy” and pointed out how their work on Curiosity was inspiring the next generation.

As the President said, “My Administration has put a big focus on improving science and technology, engineering and math education. And this is the kind of thing that inspires kids across the country.  They’re telling their moms and dads they want to be part of a Mars mission -- maybe even the first person to walk on Mars.  And that kind of inspiration is the byproduct of work of the sort that you guys have done.”

The Curiosity team is emblematic of the powerful asset that the Federal science and technology workforce can be in the all-hands-on-deck challenge to improve STEM education.

That’s why President Obama has called upon the 200,000 Federal employees working in STEM fields to bring their passion and expertise to their communities and schools in support of STEM education, and help “stoke that same curiosity in students which had perhaps led them to pursue a career in science.”  As the President has said, there are so many creative ways to engage young people in STEM fields – everything from science festivals, robotics competitions, Maker Faires, mentoring opportunities and more.  

To build on the President’s call to action, Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Director John Berry has signed a memo that further encourages the talented men and women serving in the Federal STEM workforce to volunteer their time and expertise towards improving STEM education. The memo encourages federal agencies to develop the policies and procedures to support STEM-related volunteering activities by their employees, and will have OPM working closely with OSTP and others to support federal agencies in this important work.   

We know the Federal STEM workforce is made up of many outstanding role models, like the men and women at NASA who successfully landed a one-ton rover on Mars earlier this month, and the 38 Federal winners of the recent Presidential Award for Early Career Scientists and Engineers. Together with professionals from the private sector and academia, they can play a significant role in inspiring, mentoring, and guiding girls and boys across the country towards careers in high-growth, high-paying STEM fields.

But more hands are always needed. The memo Director Berry signed is just part of the all-hands-on-deck effort that we need. So find a STEM activity in your area, volunteer your time to help a student make something, or become a STEM mentor

Kumar Garg is a Senior Advisor and Phil Larson is a Communications and Policy Analyst, both at OSTP.