President Barack Obama kicked off a national science and engineering festival  with a White House event today that honored dozens of students for their achievements in science competitions around the country.
Obama promised more than a year ago to host such a gathering, one of several at which he has extolled the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education and lamented the mediocre performance of U.S. students on international tests. And despite the fact that few if any of the students are old enough to vote in next month's midterm elections, Obama took time from a packed campaign schedule to tour an exhibit of their winning posters and then thank them for their passion.
He praised the ingenuity, perseverance, and compassion that the students have shown in projects that include a water-purification system for rural residents and a motorized chair to position those with disabilities during therapy. And he linked their success to the success of the country. "Nothing can better prepare you for the future than a degree in math and science," he told them.
Obama also gave a shout out to Subra Suresh, marking his first day as director of the National Science Foundation; plugged the Administration's spending on STEM education; and highlighted a private-sector initiative, called Changing the Equation, in which hundreds of companies and organizations are adding their dollars to public investments in science education.
The festival, aimed at demonstrating the importance of science and technology in boosting the economy and benefiting society, culminates this weekend on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. But Obama couldn't wait to deliver the take-home message of both events. "When you win a science fair, nobody's rushing the field or dumping Gatorade on you," he told the students gathered in the East Room. "But it's during these activities in which the future inventors and entrepreneurs [of this country] are born."