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Bringing a project to the White House Science Fair

Kimberly Te, third from left on the bottom,

Kimberly Te, third from left on the bottom, with President Barack Obama and other science winners on the White House steps. Credit: Te Family

Early April, I was walking between classes when my phone rang: I had been invited to the White House! I was going to exhibit my scientific work for the White House Science Fair. After school, I celebrated the news with my friend, Christine Yoo. I had been team leader of a research project with Christine on developing a novel, sustainable device that can simultaneously produce clean energy and remove oil spill pollution. For our work, we won the $100,000 grand prize in the Siemens Competition for Math, Science, and Technology and other accolades, and we were invited to the White House Science Fair to exhibit our efforts to represent the Siemens Foundation and Discovery. We were beyond excited!

Since 2010, President Barack Obama has hosted the White House Science Fair, an annual event where students from kindergarten to early college students present their projects and research in STEM at the White House to various important political figures and celebrities. This year, however, was particularly special. It was the last and final White House Science Fair of the Obama administration.

The following week, Christine, my parents and I flew to the Washington D.C. That Tuesday, we spent the day setting up our projects at the White House and met various students. We even reunited with some friends from other competitions and events that we had participated in. It was enlightening and fun to learn about the different projects that other students devised, from ocean-powered energy probes to improved fire-resistant armor. Seeing students as young as elementary school having a passion for STEM and innovations also made me feel confident about the future.

The following day, Wednesday, was the official event. Students entered the White House late morning for final preparation before guests would arrive. Afterward, we lunched on sandwiches and cookies in the Diplomat Room, an intricately mural-covered area where President Obama receives major figures from Pope Francis to Queen Elizabeth II. As I ate, the staff enthusiastically shared the history of the room and other locations usually off-limits to the public that we were allowed to explore. I felt immersed in the American history and culture, viewing realistic portraits of past presidents and other artifacts. Guests soon arrived as they roamed the West Wing to listen to the innovation of the students. It was incredibly enriching as I discussed my work and exchanged ideas with various congressmen, leaders of different research institutions and celebrities.

One of my favorite moments was presenting to Bill Nye, “The Science Guy,” and he praised our work! Karlie Kloss, who has a scholarship for girls in computer programming, was also incredibly sweet and excited to hear about our work as girls in STEM. However, one of the best moments was meeting President Obama and listening to him talk about his support and praise of students involved in STEM and innovation for a brighter future. The whole day was fantastic and further inspired me to pursue my passions. Presenting at the White House Science Fair was a prodigious honor and a definite highlight as I end my last year of high school. It was truly amazing.

Editor’s note: Kimberly has also been a Kidsday staff artist and reporter for the past four years. We are very proud of our amazing staffer, and look forward to reading about all she will achieve in her college years and beyond! Congratulations and much success at Stanford University in California.

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