On January 7th, I announced that 300 exceptional high school students had been chosen as semifinalists for the 2015 Intel Science Talent Search, a prestigious honor for young talent in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. I remember waiting by the mailbox as a student at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics with excitement and anticipation hoping that my research project was selected for the Science Talent Search. My project, "Isolation and Characterization of a Tetracycline Resistant Plasmid of an Animal Isolate, Streptococcus faecalis, SF2" was selected as a member of the Honors Group of the Westinghouse Science Talent Search. It was an important moment in my life. I can imagine it is just as important for the 300 young people who have been recognized throughout the United States this month.
On January 21st, we announced the 40 finalists of the Intel Science Talent Search. I am struck by the incredible promise of these young scientists – their thirst for knowledge, a desire to innovate and discover and make our planet a better place to live. This year’s finalists are from 36 schools in 18 states and examples of their projects include a low-cost, portable device to detect blood diseases and parasites; an advanced encryption system with potential applications in cybersecurity; new research on the use of quantum dot solar cells as an alternative energy source; and a machine learning-based method to identify promising drugs to combat cancer, tuberculosis and Ebola. I can’t help but think about all of the global challenges that need creative new thinkers – especially in low-income countries where innovation could be a real game-changer to increase access to life-saving treatments, vaccines, and sanitation; as well as innovative forms of education that can move children and entire societies out of poverty.
It is truly inspiring to think of what this new generation of youth can accomplish. I call on them to never stop trying to figure out how things work and how to make things better. We must ensure that we live up to our responsibility to nurture the next generation of innovators to solve problems and explore new possibilities. I hate to think of the incredible young minds that never had a chance to fulfill their potential, of the life-changing innovations that have yet to be seen, because we did not protect and invest in every child. This is why now more than ever before it is essential that we invest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.
Because of the incredible potential of every child, we must work to ensure equity in STEM education, so that no matter where a child is born, or what class, race or gender barriers he or she may face, every child has the opportunity to learn, to discover and to innovate. We simply can’t afford not to.