By Justin Sink
President Obama announced a new $35 million Department of Education competition to spur math and science graduates to enter the teaching profession on Tuesday at the White House Science Fair.
The president said the initiative would help "fill more of our classrooms with the hands-on science that we see here today, even when their school districts can't afford a lot of fancy equipment."
"There's so much talent to be tapped if we're working together and lifting it up ... these are the fields of the future ... where the good jobs are going to be," Obama said. "And I want America to be home for those jobs."
The president hailed the science projects presented by students from across the nation as "amazing," and said he thought highlighting their work was more important than recognizing the championship-winning athletes who regularly visit the White House.
"I'm a big sports fan. Everybody knows that. But what's happening here is more important," Obama said.
"As a society, we have to celebrate outstanding work by young people in science at least as much as we do Super Bowl winners because super-star biologists and engineers and rocket scientists and robot builders, they don't always get the attention that they deserve, but they're what's going to transform our society," he added.
The president joked about his own troubled history with science fair projects.
"One year I accidentally killed some plants that were part of my experiment. Another time a bunch of mice escaped in my grandmother's apartment," Obama admitted. "These experiments did not take me straight to the White House."
The president also said the White House had put a "special emphasis" on young women excelling in math and science during this year's fair. Participants included an all-girls robotic team and a Girl Scout troop designing a bridge robotics system.
"Right now, fewer than 1 in 5 bachelor's degrees in engineering or computer science are earned by women," Obama said. "Fewer than 3 in 10 workers in science and engineering are women. That means half our team we're not even putting on the field.
“We've got to change those numbers," the president said.