The president pointed out that men outnumber women studying and working in science and that women earn fewer than one in five bachelor's degrees in engineering and computer science.
"Half our team we're not even putting on the field," he said, after touring exhibits at the annual White House Science Fair. "We've got to change those numbers."
Obama announced a new $35 million Education Department competition to train the best math and science teachers. He also announced an expansion of AmeriCorps to help teach science and math courses to 18,000 low-income students this summer, and national science and math mentoring projects in Chicago; Philadelphia; San Francisco; Allentown, Pennsylvania; Indianapolis; the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina; and Wichita, Kansas.
He noted that he often greets champion athletes at the White House, most recently the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. But he said accomplished students deserve such honors, too.
"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 said.
Among the displays are a "concussion cushion" designed by a 19-year-old Maria Hanes of Santa Cruz, California, who aspires to be the first female collegiate head football coach. Two Massachusetts high school students, Olivia Van Amsterdam and Katelyn Sweeney, exhibited a rescue robot. Eighteen-year-old Elana Simon of New York, a high school senior and cancer survivor, described how her illness prompted her to become interested in cancer research.
And Peyton Robertson, a 12-year-old from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, wowed Obama with two inventions -- "sandless" flood retention sandbags and retractable bicycle wheels.
"If you can buy stock in Peyton," Obama said chuckling, "you should do so now."
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