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S.T.E.M: President Obama’s lasting legacy of equality

For women living under the glass ceiling marred by 18 million cracks in 2008, Hillary Clinton’s primary electoral victory indicated its resounding shatter.

Her longstanding role as an advocate for gender empowerment, particularly in such vital arenas as science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) creates a solid ground for Space generation women leaders to break orbtis.  It is to America’s great benefit that President Barack Obama, has crafted a similarly lasting legacy in this fundamental facet of U.S. socioeconomy.‎
{mosads}President Obama once stated that “…one of the things that I really strongly believe in is that we need to have more girls interested in math, science, and engineering. We’ve got half of the population that is way underrepresented in those fields and that means that we’ve got a whole bunch of talent…not being encouraged the way they need to.”
Indeed, when the President stepped into the Oval Office in 2009, the situation necessitated concerted action. Gender parity in the hard sciences was regrettably low, with women representing just 24% of scientists and engineers in the U.S. Statistics regarding representation of women of color and those from low-income communities painted an even bleaker picture.‎
This disparity perpetuates the incredibly harmful idea worldwide that science and in particular the advancement of Space research and exploration, is “for men.” This has a deeply discouraging impact on young girls, in particular, who are statistically far less likely than boys to respond “astronaut,” “scientist,” or “doctor,” when asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  Women’s lack of representation in STEM fields is both a product of and a contributor to this dynamic, creating a damaging cycle of exclusion.  
Thankfully, the current administration has shown a true commitment to breaking this cycle and laying crucial groundwork for President Obama’s ‎successor to expand on.‎  
Recognizing the immeasurable importance of science and technology for the development of the world and the nation, President Obama immediately began incentivizing STEM education upon taking office. He has secured over $1 billion in private investment for improving access to high-speed Internet in schools. He has demonstrated a personal dedication to fomenting innovation among America’s youth by establishing the annual White House Science Fair.  He has allocated unprecedented levels of federal funding to promote computer science and engineering in school curricula.
And the results are speaking for themselves. In comparison to 2008, 25,000 more engineers now graduate from American universities every year. His 2011 goal to prepare 100,000 new math and science teachers by 2021 is now over halfway fulfilled.
But President Obama’s most lasting legacy will be seen specifically in the inclusion of girls in the STEM disciplines. In 2009, Obama created the White House Council on Women and Girls by executive order. The Council plays an integral collaborative role in the President’s ‘Educate to Innovate’ campaign, which works to expand access to STEM education among women and other underrepresented groups.‎
‘Educate to Innovate’ has brought together federal agencies across the board in the drive to eradicate gender disparity in the sciences. As part of this campaign, the Department of Education launched its Invest in Innovation Fund, which awards grants to schools demonstrating concrete improvements in girls’ participation and performance in STEM areas. NASA recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the Girl Scouts of America to inspire young girls to pursue STEM careers through camps, conventions, and integrated programs.
I haven’t the slightest doubt that, Mrs. Clinton, who may well be the first female President of the United States in a New Space Age, would continue her predecessor’s initiatives with unshakable resolve. Throughout her career, she has been exceedingly vocal regarding the great detriment that gender disparity in the sciences poses to American society and the U.S. economy. ‎

When a 13-year-old Hillary wrote personally to NASA asking what steps she needed to take to become an astronaut, she received a response brusquely informing her that the Space program didn’t accept women.‎
Driven by that experience, she has used her public posts to advocate for women’s inclusion in the STEM disciplines. The Clinton Foundation’s “No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project” stresses the power of technological education as a vehicle for women’s empowerment. Young girls around the country can rest assured that Mrs. Clinton will continue to work tirelessly until, “breaking the glass ceiling” translates into breaking barriers and breaking orbits; until science kits become as ubiquitous in girls’ bedrooms as Easy-Bake Ovens; until women in universities no longer look around their organic chemistry lecture hall and feel discouraged by the lack of female presence.
President Obama’s legacy will be in good hands should Mrs. Clinton win in November, and the importance of that cannot be overstated. Much as a view of the Earth from Space reveals no man-made boundaries—be they physical, political, or cultural—the STEM disciplines transcend divides between peoples.  There is no way to misinterpret a differential equation; there is no conflict to be born from science. Therefore, as more and more female astronauts command and lead at the International Space Station, it’s timely that we embrace the universality of math and the objectivity of the hard sciences as unifying forces–and–allow them to be.

Ms. Namira Salim is a globally recognized pioneering polar explorer, Founder and Chairperson of Space Trust, an enterprise devoted to Making Space the New Frontier for Peace.  She is also a ‎Founder Astronaut of Virgin Galactic and is based in the Principality of Monaco.  The views expressed here are her own.

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