WASHINGTON – Giant telescopes, science projects and astronauts created an outdoor astronomy lab on a chilly Monday night at the White House for students, parents and teachers.
It was the second Astronomy Night, when President Barack Obama told 300 guests that science, technology, engineering and math education in schools are important for the country’s future.
“We need to inspire more young people to ask about the stars and begin that lifetime quest to become the next great scientist, or inventor, or engineer, or astronaut,” said Obama, who plans to have Americans visit Mars in the 2030s.
According to the Department of Education, only 16 percent of American high school seniors are proficient in math and interested in a STEM career.
“We have to watch for, and cultivate, and encourage those glimmers of curiosity and possibility, and not suppress them, not squelch them, because not only are the young people’s futures at stake, but our own is at stake,” Obama said.
He was likely referring to Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old Muslim teen from Irving, Texas, who was arrested last month for bringing a homemade clock to school. His teachers mistook the device for a bomb and called police. Ahmed was in the crowd on the South Lawn.
A photo of the bewildered teen in handcuffs went viral, and Ahmed began receiving thousands of messages of support on social media. Among them were Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Hilary Clinton and musician Pharrell Williams.
Ahmed, it’s innovative, curious, bright minds like yours who move humanity forward. You are our future. Keep inventing! #IStandWithAhmed
— Pharrell Williams (@Pharrell) Sept. 16, 2015
President Obama invited Ahmed to the White House in a Tweet.
Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It’s what makes America great.
— President Obama (@POTUS) Sept. 16, 2015
After the president’s speech, Ahmed had a brief chance to speak with Obama, where they conversed about space and the upcoming Mars project.
“It was amazing actually,” said Ahmed, who hopes to find a career in a STEM related field. He spoke Tuesday after a Capitol Hill press conference condemning the actions of Ahmed’s school.
“It’s an outstanding program, and it’s for kids that want to learn about science, engineering, and technology,” he said about STEM programs.
At the White House, Ahmed looked through a telescope and saw the moon, Mars and Uranus. He also got the opportunity to talk with Bill Nye.
“It felt really good to meet with one of my childhood idols,” he said.
Reach reporter Matias J. Ocner at [email protected] or 202-408-1492. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.
Download photos: Astronomy-night.zip