When 9-year-old Jacob Leggette asked President Obama whether he had a kid science adviser on staff, he mostly was just striking up conversation with the world leader at the White House Science Fair, where he was showing off models of toys he created with a 3-D printer. Jacob never dreamed that the suggestion would get serious consideration.
On Friday, Jacob was at the White House again, this time meeting with the country’s top scientists as one of the president’s new Kid Science Advisors. Jacob, of Baltimore, joined 10 other students from around the country who were among the 2,500 students who submitted ideas about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education to the White House.
The president greeted the students before the group met with Obama’s science adviser, John Holdren, as well as astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly, NASA Director Charles Bolden and France Córdova, director of the National Science Foundation.
“It’s an honor having someone so powerful take your suggestion seriously, especially if you are a kid,” Jacob said in an interview before the meeting.
The Kid Science Advisor program aims to promote the administration’s goal of improving STEM instruction in schools, including at the elementary level. The same day Jacob pitched his idea to the president six months ago, the Education Department released guidance to school districts on how to direct federal resources to boost STEM education. Obama also has advocated for computer coding lessons in the classroom.
Obama hopes to increase diversity in STEM fields, drawing in more women and underrepresented minorities to jobs that many think are critical to the nation’s future.
Of the child advisers who visited the White House on Friday, more than half were girls. They are interested in chemistry, transportation, physics and medicine.
Anahi Gandara-Rodriguez, 15, of Denver is a founding member of HackSchool, a program that gives low-income students an opportunity to solve community problems through technology. She is developing a prototype of a smart cane for the blind that detects the distance between the cane and other objects; the cane sends a vibration to a certain part of the hand depending on how far away the objects are from the user.
“I am so excited that I can give my opinion and help people,” Anahi said of her new role.
Sage Foreman, 12, of Goodyear, Ariz., has helped build his school’s robotics team. He is suggesting a national science and technology field trip day, when middle and high school students visit local businesses to hear from scientists about their latest innovations.
Sage wants to inspire other students his age to get into science and technology fields because he said companies are having a hard time finding qualified workers. He wants to become a professor who wins the Nobel Prize for inventing something that stops air pollution.
Jacob’s little sister, Alexis, is also one of Obama’s new advisers. The 5-year-old, who enjoys exploring chemistry experiments, wants more girls to earn science degrees.
Alexis wants to be a doctor or scientist when she grows up.
Before the meeting, Alexis said she was going to ask Holdren and the others how it feels to be a great inventor. Jacob, who wants to work with robots to build artificial organs, said he was going to tell the Obama administration that every child should have a computer.
“Kids should have a computer at home so they can reinforce what they learn at school,” Jacob said.