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To Spur Entrepreneurship, STEM Education in the Spotlight

Will.i.am and Mark Zuckerberg aren't the only ones interested in ramping up America's science, technology, engineering, and mathematics talent. This week, the White House offered its own look at the state of STEM.

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Entrepreneurs often gripe that America is behind the times in its ability to train the technology workers and founders of tomorrow.

Meet 16-year-old Joey Hudy (a.k.a. "Joey Marshmallow"). In 2012, when he was just 14, he created the marshmallow launcher that President Obama used to catapult a marshmallow across the East Room at a White House Science Fair. A self-described "Maker," Hudy, who is from Anthem, Ariz., is part of a growing community of tinkerers, inventors and entrepreneurs who are building things that could one day become household products.

The problem is, the U.S. needs many, many more Joey Marshmallows to fill the expansive number of available positions at the nation's technology companies--and start the tech companies of tomorrow.

To address this need, hip-hop artist will.i.am has partnered with FIRST, an organization that brings STEM education to kids through robotics programs. Meanwhile, the Black Eyed Peas frontman founded the i.am.angel Foundation and raised $5 million to build a STEM-focused community center in East Los Angeles. And he’s involved with Code.org--an initiative backed by Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Miami Heat player Chris Bosh--which provides online coding lessons and advocates for every student in every school to have the opportunity to learn computer science.

Even the White House is getting in on the action. Today marked the second annual SoSTEM (State of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) event at the White House, where more than 100 middle- and high-school students convened for a forum on the state of STEM education. The famed Joey Marshmallow was there, along with John P. Holdren, President Obama’s science advisor, Todd Park, U.S. Chief Technology Officer and NASA’s 2013 astronaut candidate class.

The event follows the State of the Union address yesterday, where the President spoke about the need to promote STEM education. "Teachers and principals in schools from Tennessee to Washington, D.C. are making big strides in preparing students with skills for the new economy--problem solving, critical thinking, science, technology, engineering, and math."

Today's SoSTEM discussion hit on a similar theme. Park urged students to use the "treasure trove" of free data the government makes available at Data.gov. One of his roles is promote the Open Data Initiatives program, which is designed to unearth government data and make it accessible to entrepreneurs, innovators and scientists.

Entrepreneurs are grabbing that data and using it to start companies, build apps and solve problems, explained Park, who launched three startups of his own before becoming the second-ever U.S. CTO. One of these was Athenahealth, founded in 1997 to help physicians manage online data.

"Launch your first company, and your second, and your third, and your fourth," Park told the students. "You are the ones that will keep America innovating," Park said. "You are the hope for the future."

If nothing else, at least you'll have no trouble getting a job.

IMAGE: Jon Callas/Flickr
Last updated: Jan 29, 2014

LYDIA BELANGER is an editorial intern for Inc. magazine. Previously, she interned with AARP The Magazine and Circle of Blue.
@LydiaBelanger




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