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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks at the White House Council on Women and Girls: A Focus on Girls in STEM, As Prepared April 24, 2012

As prepared for delivery.

I am very happy to welcome you all here today to this White House Panel on Girls in STEM. We are very glad to have you with us today in the White House – and hello to everyone watching online and in their classrooms. We’re glad you can join us as well. Let me also say how very excited I am to see so many incredible young ladies in our audience today.

As you may know, I am the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And at the EPA, science is the backbone of every decision we make and every action we take. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that I believe STEM education is critical to our country’s future, and that – as a woman scientist – bringing more young women into STEM fields is something I am very passionate about. There is a great need – and a great opportunity – to engage young women in STEM education, and encourage them to seek careers in STEM fields.

Now – like the women in this room, I’ve had an interest in math and science since I was young. At the time, it didn’t strike me as all that unique. I went to an all-girls school in my hometown of New Orleans, and like all of the other young women in my class, I tried my hardest and did as well as I could. It wasn’t until I began my study of chemical engineering in college at Tulane University that I found myself, in most cases, as one of the few women in my classes.

As you can imagine, this was a bit of a shock for me after going to an all-girls school. I saw much the same thing as I pursued my master’s degree in chemical engineering at Princeton – where my classmates and instructors were also predominantly men. Now – things have gotten better. When I was a student, about 154,000 women were pursuing master’s degrees in science and engineering across the country. By 2003, that number had grown to 270,000. Fifty years ago, ten percent of the doctorates in science and engineering went to women. Today that number has grown to 40 percent.

This weekend, I spent some time talking to brilliant young college women who were part of scientific teams that submitted projects to EPA’s People, Prosperity and the Planet competition. In the last two years, we’ve seen some great examples of young women scientists at the White House science fair. And I took note last year when young women took top honors in all three age groups of the first-ever Google Science Fair.

The future is looking very bright. Each year, a new class of young women graduates from America’s colleges and universities, eager to take jobs in math and science, to become doctors, engineers, CEOs and teachers. But even with all of that progress, we still have work to do.

For one thing, we know that adding more women to STEM fields would undoubtedly benefit our economy. It’s clear that much of our future prosperity rests on new innovations and advances in scientific and technical and medical fields. President Obama has made it a priority to invest in research and development – not only because American scientists and inventors are doing work critical on public health or energy security, but also because we know that new ideas lead to new opportunities for American workers. Think of how far we’ve already come. Think of how many “Next Big Things” we’ve already seen. And for most of history, half the team has been kept sitting on the sidelines. It is exciting to imagine what can happen once those talents are fully unleashed.

Bringing more and more women into STEM fields can also have a positive effect on science itself. Whenever I meet with young women, I encourage them to throw out their idea of what a quote-unquote “scientist” is supposed to look like. Being a scientist doesn’t have to mean being in a lab by yourself with test tubes. It can mean that, if that’s what you want. But it can also mean getting out in the community and talking to people about issues that touch their lives. It can mean taking action to protect children’s health, or helping impoverished communities around the world get clean water, or finding solutions to rebuild ecosystems for endangered species.

The traditional impression of science – and scientists – is that they are detached and can be anti-social. But the truth is that science touches our daily lives, and we need more women – and men – studying science as a way to make our lives better.

I want to save as much time for our panel discussion as possible, so let me stop there to introduce our video, titled “Girls in STEM.” This tells the stories of the brilliant young women scientists and engineers who participated in the White House Science Fair not too long ago. I’m very glad to share it with you – and to have you with us today. Thank you very much.