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Connecting Everyone To Tech Skills And Opportunities

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Today, we’re launching Round 2 of the Presidential Innovation Fellows program, with the aspiration of turning it into an engine that helps advance tech opportunity for all.

By Valerie Jarrett (Sr. Advisor, White House) & Todd Park (US Chief Technology Officer, White House)

President Obama has always believed that innovation is key to growing our economy, creating jobs, and remaining globally competitive. The “STEM” disciplines — science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – are at the core of innovation, andthat’s why the President has set a goal of one million additional STEM graduates over the next decade. We can only achieve these objectives by giving as many people as possible the opportunity to participate in our STEM economy.

This means increasing participation by those who have been historically under-represented, including women, African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and people with disabilities. While women account for 57% of college students, they constitute only 18% of engineering and computer science degree holders. When it comes to the workforce, less than 6% of STEM jobs are held by African Americans or Latinos.

The President believes that everyone should have the ability to connect to tech skills and opportunities, and he is committed to knocking down barriers that stand in the way.

As one example, as part of the Equal Futures App Challenge, we hosted our first-ever White House code-a-thon in December. We invited high school girls and technology professionals to design innovative apps that encourage young women to be civic leaders.

Last week, we hosted several activities that highlight the importance of STEM for all:

Last Tuesday, President Obama put the Administration’s STEM efforts in the context of immigration, as he highlighted the need for our country to welcome those who study here with the opportunity to stay here, applying their knowledge to help grow the American economy and create jobs.

Last Thursday, the White House co-hosted a Tech Inclusion Summit with the Level Playing Field Institute. At the Summit, five newly formed private-sector initiatives were launched to engage youth in technology, including new efforts to provide pioneering educational tools to students of all ages, bring technical training to under-represented communities, and mobilize CEOs of tech companies to establish mentoring programs for young people.

Last Friday, the President welcomed to the White House winners of the National Medal of Science and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation – the highest honors given by the Federal Government to scientists and engineers. These superstars come from all walks of life and backgrounds but they shared a common goal: bringing to fruition new ideas in order to make the Nation and the world a better place.

President Obama said, “In a global economy where the best jobs follow talent – whether in Calcutta or Cleveland – we need to do everything we can to encourage that same kind of passion, [and] make it easier for more young people to blaze a new trail.”

And today, we’re launching Round 2 of the Presidential Innovation Fellows program, with the aspiration of turning it into an engine that helps advance tech opportunity for all.

This unique program brings top innovators from the private sector, non-profits, and academia into government for 6-12 month “tours of duty” to work on solutions that save lives, save taxpayer money, and fuel job creation. Over the past six months, our inaugural Fellows have accomplished amazing feats, including reimagining the way citizens engage with government services and information, opening up government data as fuel for entrepreneurship and innovation, and enabling millions of veterans and other Americans to securely download their own health information.

Becoming a Presidential Innovation Fellow is an opportunity for people of all backgrounds to serve their country and help millions of people. In a concerted effort to tap into the full breadth of talent that America offers, we’ve held multiple roundtables over the past few months discussing women in tech and diversity in tech. We have received enormously helpful advice and support from many organizations and leaders. As a result, we’ve implemented improvements for Round 2 of the Fellows program, including:

  • Doubled the length of the application period from three to six weeks;
  • Organized proactive outreach to a broad and diverse array of communities to spread the word far and wide about the opportunity to be a Presidential Innovation Fellow;
  • Built a large and diverse network of stakeholders to spread the word about the program through their channels—through both broad communication about the program and (very importantly) by encouraging specific high-potential candidates to apply;
  • Reviewed the language we use when describing the program and its projects for unintended bias;
  • Enlisted Round 1 Fellows to talk about their (amazing) experiences so that potential applicants understand the extraordinary opportunities afforded by the program;
  • Encouraged agencies that will be selecting Round 2 Fellows to offer flexible work arrangements (including telework) as appropriate.

You can apply now. We’ll be taking applications from February 5 to March 17. Become a role model and inspire countless others to connect to tech! Please help spread the word about the program and tell the most talented people you know about the program and encourage them to apply!

And there are plenty of other things you can do to help extend STEM opportunity to all, including:

The President and his Administration are committed to connecting everyone to tech skills and opportunities. By taking one of the actions above, you can help make that vision a reality!

Photo credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza – President Barack Obama hosts the second White House Science Fair celebrating the student winners of a broad range of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) competitions from across the country. The President talked with Samantha Garvey, 18, of Bay Shore, N.Y., about her environmental sciences project examining the effect of physical environment and predators on a specific species of mussel, in the State Dining Room of the White House, Feb. 7, 2012.

Women 2.0 readers: What are you doing to increase women’s participating in STEM?

About the guest blogger: Valerie Jarrett is a Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama. She is the Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls. Prior to joining Obama’s Administration, she was the CEO of The Habitat Company. She served as Co-Chair of the Obama-Biden Presidential Transition Team and Senior Advisor to Obama’s presidential campaign. She’s held positions in the public & private sector, including Chairman of the Chicago Transit Board and Commissioner of Planning & Development for Chicago.

About the guest blogger: Todd Park is the United States Chief Technology Officer and in this role serves as an Assistant to the President. Todd joined the Administration in August 2009 as Chief Technology Officer of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). In this role, he served as a change agent and “entrepreneur-in-residence,” helping HHS harness the power of data, technology, and innovation to improve the health of the nation. Follow him on Twitter at @todd_park.