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Ivanka Trump and Betsy DeVos Promote Female Participation in STEM

Ivanka Trump and Betsy DeVos visited the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) to promote the film “Hidden Figures”, highlight some of the important scientific contributions African American women have made, and empower female students to get involved in the STEM fields. However, many are taking issue with the event due to the fact that President Trump is trying to erase $115 million in funding for the NASA Office of Education. 

Ivanka Trump praised Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughn, the NASA mathematicians who inspired “Hidden Figures”, for “paving the way for greater representation of women and African Americans in these fields” and “inspir[ing] us all to continue pushing gender boundaries across all industries.” Trump also applauded her father for recently signing a bill expanding NASA’s space exploration mission.

However, as some education policymakers and leaders point out, this renewed fiscal commitment to deep space exploration does not equate to an investment in STEM education initiatives. In fact, the administration is proposing to get rid of NASA’s Office of Education, which provides students with unique educational opportunities and seeks to increase the involvement of underrepresented groups in STEM. As The Huffington Post reports that means enrichment programs, camps, internships and even scholarships could be taken away, should the president's administration have their way.

Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, took issue with Trump and DeVos visit to the NASM. “Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Ivanka Trump are feigning an interest in STEM careers with a photo op at the National Air and Space Museum while eliminating all funding for NASA’s education programs," said Weingarten, according to The Washington Post

"If this administration was genuinely interested in promoting STEM programs, it would walk the walk, not just talk the talk. The next generation of astronauts, scientists, engineers and mathematicians need support, not budget cuts eliminating the very programs being promoted."

Despite some critics’ complaints that the event served an entirely superficial purpose, it nevertheless drew attention to the troubling gender gap in STEM. Trump encouraged the female students in the audience to “beat those statistics and advance the role of women in STEM fields.” She urged male students to support their female counterparts, arguing that "[t]he playing field will only be leveled if we can all work together to eliminate these longstanding barriers," according to Ed Week.

However, raising awareness of the issue alone will not efface the systemic barriers contributing to the imbalanced gender representation in the STEM workforce.

 

Article by Navindra Persaud, Education World Contributor and Richard Conklin, Education World Editor.

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