My Quest to the White House: A Visit to the Office of Science and Technology Policy

Ethiopia-WashLee (1)
Ethiopia Getachew, QuestBridge Scholar, W&L ’19

Last week, 11 QuestBridge Scholars met face-to-face with staff from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to discuss issues that are important to them. Ethiopia Getachew, a Biochemistry major and a Computer Science minor on the pre-medical track at Washington and Lee University, reflected on the visit:

Two years ago from this day, I was in constant stress about applying to colleges and finding financial aid as an international student attending high school in the United States.

One year ago from this day, I had just arrived on the Washington and Lee University campus, excited for the four years ahead of me.

And on this day, I was on my way to the Office of Science and Technology Policy with incredibly smart and resilient young people who have dedicated themselves to pursuing their passion. Never would I have imagined this would be my life.

I met with the group at a small sandwich shop by the corner of the NASA Headquarters. Immediately, I was greeted by the friendly faces of Ana and Michael McCullough, the Co-Founders of QuestBridge. They pointed out the rest of the group to me and I was introduced to 10 other incredibly successful and STEM-oriented students from various universities and a few QuestBridge Scholar alumni. Over lunch we talked about our interests, our aspirations and more, and I realized how much we were all passionate about the science fields we were in and how excited we were at the opportunity to talk to government officials about STEM policies. We all felt that it was absolutely crucial to create a pipeline for minority and low-income students to enter — and most importantly stay — in the sciences.

After lunch, we traveled to the Eisenhower Executive Building which houses the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). We were greeted by Erik Martin, Policy Advisor, and he took us to the OSTP conference room. There, we were received by Tom Kalil, Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation. He introduced himself to us and told us a bit about his duties and the projects they were working on at the moment. One of their projects that impressed me the most was their 100Kin10 initiative that aims to introduce 100,000 new STEM teachers by 2021 in order to educate the new generation of scientists, innovators, and critical thinkers.

During this meeting, more members of the OSTP team like Ruthe Farmer, Senior Policy Advisor of Tech Inclusion and Nate Segal, Senior Policy Advisor of Small Business Innovation, came in. We discussed policy ideas that we had which especially focused on creating more opportunities for low-income and minority students to engage in STEM. This meant including a more interactive and science inclusive teaching style beginning at a younger age when we have more neuroplasticity. Ruthe Farmer told us about her Computer for All project that was already working to achieve that. In addition to fostering interest in science fields, we also discussed possibilities about incentivizing science projects and involvement by setting up a grand and prestigious prize that could include a monetary prize as well as an internship opportunity.

After our discussion regarding new STEM education policies, we met with DJ Patil, Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Data Policy and Chief Data Scientist, and Megan Smith, U.S. Chief Technology Officer. We talked with them about our experiences in the sciences, what motivated and inspired us to enter the fields we were in, and the multiple resources the OSTP already has online. One of the most memorable moments from this trip for me was when Megan Smith rather swiftly pulled up statistics on the difference between dialogue time for men and women while we were discussing the topic. Her knowledge, passion and affinity for data sets and science was truly inspiring. She was so engaged in the conversation that we were having and was thoroughly interested in what we had to say. She made individual comments to each of us about our universities or our STEM projects we were currently working on.

Megan Smith as well as all the officials we met that day were so clearly passionate about science and increasing STEM education opportunities for students. In a world where our opinions of politics and government have become increasingly biased as inefficient due to bipartisanship and the lack of ability to produce any legislature that can actually make a difference, it was truly inspiring to visit the OSTP. They were all there because they believed in something: the power of science to positively shape our world. And most importantly, they were passionate, dedicated and ready to do the work necessary to bring about the changes that were needed. If there was anything I took away from this trip, it was hope for our future.

– by Ethiopia Getachew, Washington and Lee University ’19