Science in the Spotlight

TFK Kid Reporter Grace Clark reports on her experience at a White House STEM event for kids

Feb 07, 2014 | By TFK Kid Reporter Grace Clark
COURTESY CLARK FAMILY

TFK Kid Reporter Grace Clark poses for a picture with Leland Melvin, an astronaut and former NFL player.

On Wednesday, January 29, 2014, the second annual State of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math ("SoSTEM") event took place at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in the White House complex, in Washington, D.C. I had the chance to cover the event with four other kid press members, including fellow TFK Kid Reporter Kristin Rigsby (read her report here).

TFK Kid Reporter Grace Clark interviews Dr. John Holdren, the President’s Science Advisor and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
COURTESY CLARK FAMILY
TFK Kid Reporter Grace Clark interviews Dr. John Holdren, the President’s Science Advisor and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

After arriving, the kid press was invited to conduct one-on-one interviews with some of the panelist. I first interviewed Joey Hudy, a 16-year-old “maker” who creates things in his free time. He told me about his experience winning the White House Science Fair and about some of his inventions. The invention that helped him gain fame is his Marshmallow Cannon. He shot it across the White House’s East Room with President Obama at the 2012 White House Science Fair. His motto is “Don’t be bored, make something!”

Then, I spoke to NASA astronaut Joe Acaba, who educated me on his many missions and his journey to become an astronaut. Acaba, a mission specialist, completed astronaut candidate training in 2006. He told me that the hardest part of training was learning how to speak Russian. The astronauts need to learn how to speak Russian because the only way to get to the International Space Station is on a Russian rocket. Acaba then gave me his most recent mission badge—something I will cherish forever.

Next, I talked to Tyrone Davis, an environmental advocate from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, who helped his university save money while reducing their carbon emissions. Davis is legally blind, but that doesn't stop him from working to make a difference in the world. He gave advice on what other citizens can do to help the environment. “We may be different, but we all have something in common,” he said. “We can all take a step forward to make the world a better place.” He also said that his biggest concern for the environment is rapid climate change.

Finally, I interviewed Dr. John Holdren, President Obama’s Science Advisor and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, which organized SoSTEM. He informed me that the president wants more girls to pursue science and technology. 

A Panel of Scientists

As my interviews concluded, many guests began to arrive for the SoSTEM panels, in which students in the audience would have the opportunity to ask questions. Within 10 minutes, nearly all of the seats were occupied.

In the first panel, the three most popular topics were energy, space, and robots. Dr. Gill Pratt, who works for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, was asked many questions about his job designing robots. He told the crowd that robots are being created to look like humans and do dirty, dangerous, undesirable jobs that people can’t or don’t want to do. Pratt also spoke about trying and failing. “Don’t be afraid to fail,” he said, “because failure and learning what you don’t understand through trying and failing is an integral part of life.“

Dr. Holdren spoke about ideas involving visits to space in years to come. He hopes that one day, humans can go to Mars and to asteroids. Tyrone Davis talked about green energy, saying that we should not use as much energy, and—with the help of technology—we might be able to create cleaner energy. Overall, the panel was interesting, inspiring and moving.

Melvin watches as astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Michael Hopkins deliver a message from the International Space Station to SoSTEM attendees.
BILL INGALLS—NASA
Melvin watches as astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Michael Hopkins deliver a message from the International Space Station to SoSTEM attendees.

Becoming Astronauts

Todd Park, the U.S. Chief Technology Officer, spoke about how he advises the president on ways to unleash the power of technology for innovative uses. He introduced astronaut and former NFL player, Leland Melvin. Melvin introduced Joe Acaba and the 2013 Astronaut Candidate Class: Christina Hammock, Andrew Morgan, Victor Glover, Jessica Meir, Tyler Hague, Josh Cassada, Anne McClain, and Nicole Aunapu Mann. The astronaut group was very diverse, with many types of scientists, and included former members of the military. Acaba explained that the class would have 18 months of training, including learning to speak Russian, learning how to orbit in space, and learning how to live with zero gravity. The astronaut candidates are in for a challenge. I wish them the best of luck in their 18 months of training to come. 

After the event, the kid press members were led to the West Wing of the White House. We had the opportunity to see the Press Briefing Room, which is located under the Oval Office and above President Roosevelt’s former swimming pool. This is why some people call this room the “Press Pool.” The room was very small with only about 20 chairs. Each chair belongs to a specific news company. Although there was no chair for TFK, I had a chance to sit in the official TIME chair in the front of the room. In the back of the room, there were men editing film. Facing the chairs was a podium, and behind the podium is the White House seal and the flag of the United States of America. My heart pounded when I stood on the podium. It’s the same one we see on TV news, where the president stands to meet the press to discuss major issues.

I took with me the realization that many people in Washington, D.C. are hard at work to advance our country in ways kids haven't thought of yet. We have come a long way, but we can go a lot further in space, with robots. We can improve our land and air if we keep thinking and listening. What's the next big invention? Can you come up with it?