White House Science Fair 2015

Contributed by Olivia Pavco-Giaccia

White House SealI was scanning the recent deliveries to my inbox. My eyes glanced over the long list of fairly routine entries: meeting updates, product orders, lunch invites, hot deals on air fares, email from the White House…  What? I clicked on the entry that had popped onto my screen and there it was, complete with the iconic blue seal at the top: an invite from the White House to attend the 2015 White House Science Fair
Hosted by President Obama, this annual event featured dozens of innovative projects, designs, and experiments from students all across America. This year’s Fair was the fifth of its kind and included a specific focus on girls and women who are excelling in STEM and inspiring the next generation with their work. As a member of the NGCP National Champions Board I was proud to be included in this event to continue the discussions sparked by so many NGCP initiatives. As founder and CEO of LabCandy, a social enterprise whose mission is to encourage girls in STEM, I am passionate about getting our next generation of inventors and innovators stoked about science and was truly honored to have been invited. I submitted the requested security clearance information and set about making arrangements to be in Washington, DC to visit 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

On the morning of March 23rd, I headed into the White House via the 15th Street Hamilton Gate. Due to its location on the side of the White House grounds, you rarely see this gate in any of the White House news clips, but it is a common entrance for visitors and is very cool. Here I am making my way through the first check-point:

White House Check Point

White House Check Point

Once inside, the energy, creativity, and enthusiasm of the participants were palpable. Here is a sampling of a few of the exhibits that I snapped from my phone (and yes, those are LabCandy goggles!):

President Obama addressed the attendees, speaking about the importance of STEM education to both our nation and its work force. I was particularly thrilled to hear him speak specifically about the importance of engaging women and girls in the sciences – a mission integral to NGCP and LabCandy.  

A funny story from behind-the-scenes:  We were assembled listening to the President’s remarks and a distinct smell of smoke seeped into the room. We all thought that there might be a fire somewhere in the vicinity. The President noticed also. Without missing a beat, he asked the Secret Service to check it out and then told us that we were a lucky bunch to witness this event since the last time there was a fire at the White House, the British were invading. As it turned out, the culprit was a malfunctioning video camera, not a fire.
The media stars of the day were clearly Troop 411, a spirited group of six year olds from Tulsa, Oklahoma who represented the Girl Scouts of America. You probably saw one of the many national news clips of them explaining their “page-turning robot” invention to the President. The in person scene was as fun as it appeared on TV. Their advice about the virtues of brainstorming to solve a problem brought smiles to everyone in attendance, especially the President who playfully said that he has tried it too.

Troop 411, photo courtesy of NewsOK.com

Troop 411, photo courtesy of NewsOK.com

Also in attendance were many folks vitally involved in the STEM world, including Megan Smith, US Chief Technology Officer, Astronaut Leland Melvin, and the king of selfies, Bill Nye (a.k.a. The Science Guy). As you can see, each of them was very supportive of LabCandy’s work, and enthusiastically donned some of our rhinestone-encrusted lab goggles. We had lots of fun chatting about the importance of engaging girls in STEM and snapping pictures together:

White House Science Fair Attendees

It was an amazing day filled with energy, hope, and promise for vitalizing broader and deeper interest in the world of STEM, especially among women and girls. I am honored to have attended, and came away from the event even more convinced that the time is ripe for us to move ahead together toward accomplishing this mission!

Olivia Pavco-Giaccia is a student at Yale University, CEO of LabCandy, and a member of the NGCP National Champions Board