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President Clinton Announces The Presidential Awards For Excellence In Science, Math And Engineering Mentoring

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The Briefing Room

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release September 10, 1998


The Roosevelt Room

1:52 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. I sawRepresentative Brown take my speech off the podium -- (laughter) --and I thought that that was a rather extreme measure to take todemonstrate that he still knows much more about this subject than Ido. (Laughter.)

Let me thank all of you for coming and congratulate theawardees. I thank Secretary Slater and Secretary Riley for theirsupport of this endeavor. I want to thank Neal Lane for agreeing tobecome the President's Science Advisor; and Dr. Rita Colwell forheading the NSF. When they were clapping for her, I didn't realizethat she was sort of the poster woman of achievement for women inscience. (Laughter.) But I couldn't think of a better one.

I would like to say one very serious thing about GeorgeBrown. Many jokes have been made over the years about my affinityfor issues that don't exactly grip the public consciousness frommorning until night every day, but I think the public is moreinterested in science and technology than ever before and understandsmore clearly its role than ever before. And I believe it's importantto acknowledge that in the last generation, the member of Congressmost responsible for our doing everything we've done right has beenGeorge Brown of California. And I thank you for that. (Applause.)

Let me say, I'm quite well aware that we're starting alittle late today, and I regret that, but I was in an extendedmeeting with senators from my own party -- part of this process I'mgoing through of talking to people with whom I work and with whom Imust work in your behalf to ask for their understanding, theirforgiveness, and their commitment, not to let the events of themoment in Washington deter us from doing the people's work here andbuilding the future of this country. And I can't think of a bettermoment really or subject for us to make that larger point.

All of you know how rapidly the world is changing. Now,everyday citizens see it when they watched the gyrations of the stockmarket up and down. I've been in Maryland and Florida the lastcouple of days -- mostly in schools and with teachers and PTAleaders, and then at a couple of political events where regularbusiness people would come up to me and say it truly is amazing tothem how much events here are affected by events beyond our borders,and how much people want us here to be strong, to be leading, to havea genuine and deep commitment to preparing for the future. There isno better example of that than the work that you do.

So the primary purpose of this event is for all of us --and especially me -- to congratulate the President's Awardees forExcellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring, and tothank you for doing this. Because not only those whom you mentor,but those whom they touch will have a broader and more accurate worldview for the future. That will make our country a better place.

We are living in a truly remarkable time, driven in nosmall measure by the revolutions in science and technology. Oureconomy depends on it more and more, and the maintenance of ourleadership depends upon our deepening commitment to it more and more.Yet statistics show that in science, engineering, and mathematics,minorities, women, and people with disabilities are still grosslyunder-represented, even though we are becoming an ever more diversesociety.

I've just really got this on my mind because I've beenin a grade school in Maryland and a grade school in Orlando, Florida,this week, and I was looking at those kids, and it is hard to imaginean American future that works without those kids properly representedin the ranks of science and technology; without those kids making aprofound commitment to mathematics; without those young peoplebelieving that if they have an interest there, they can pursue it tothe nth degree.

And the truth is -- you know, Rita talked about beingdiscouraged and having people say they shouldn't waste scholarshipson women -- you hear similar stories from our first women astronauts.You hear similar stories from the first pioneers who broke racial andother barriers. But the truth is, even though we need our heroes andour trailblazers, that's no way to run a society. And people sooneror later just have to get over it. They have to get over it and open-- (applause.)

Now, look at this. Let me just read you this. TheAmerican Association for the Advancement of Scientists shows thatbetween 1996 and 1997, 20 percent fewer African Americans, and 18.2percent fewer Hispanic American young people enrolled in graduateprograms in science and engineering.

Judy Winston is here, who has done such a marvelous jobof carrying our President's Initiative on Race. One of the thingsthat I launched that initiative on race to do was to highlightdevelopments like this, to talk about these disparities, talk aboutwhat we could do about them. If we're serious about giving everyAmerican the chance to reach his or her dreams, and building a workforce for the global economy that reflects our national diversity andour global ties, if we're serious about having the finest scientists,mathematicians, and engineers in the world, we can't leave anybodybehind.

Now, I've been working very hard to make sure that wehave more uniform, high-quality, world-class public education inevery school in America; that the children without regard to theirrace or their income or the region of the country in which they live,or the income of the neighborhood in which they live, will all haveaccess to the kind of preparatory education they need.

And we work very hard -- we've opened the doors ofcollege wider than ever before in history with the HOPE Scholarships,with the tax credits for all four years of college and graduateschools, with dramatic increases in Pell grants and work-studyprograms, with the improvements in the student loan programs. But wehave to do more if we are going to address this problem. All that'sbeen done, and the problem you're here to celebrate your contributionto solving is in many places and in many ways getting worse. And wehave to face that because it is not good for America.

We started an initiative that I hope will be funded inthis Congress that I think could really help called the High HopesInitiative, to provide mentors for disadvantaged middle schoolstudents and be able to tell these kids when they're in middleschool, you will be able to go on to college if you do well, andhere's how much money you can get and here's what you can do with it.

But still, once these young people get to college, ifthey come from backgrounds where there is almost no record ofachievement in the areas you represent, they need mentors. They needpeople who can guide them through all these decisions that have to bemade about what you're going to major in and what else you take. I'mbecoming an expert in that. (Laughter.) They need people who canguide them into the right kinds of graduate programs. They needpeople who can support them through graduate work and help them tofind a successful career.

Now, when we started these awards in 1996, we did it toencourage more scientists, engineers, and mathematicians to becomementors, and to encourage more minorities, women, and young peoplewith disabilities to seek careers in science and math andtechnological fields. Today I want to announce a new step in thisarea. The federal government supports the work, literally, of tensof thousands of scientists and engineers at national labs anduniversities all across the country. If it were up to George and me,we'd support the work of many more. But these are tens of thousandsof potential mentors working for our country through your tax dollarinvestments.

Today I'm directing the National Science and TechnologyCouncil to report back to me in six months with comprehensiverecommendations about how we can use this fabulous resource togenerate more mentors, to touch more kids, in a way that will have ahuge positive impact on this problem we're trying to attack.(Applause.)

If every scientist and engineer who is doing somethingas a direct result of federal investment were to become a committed,dedicated mentor, think what it would mean: A teenager from ruralTennessee reaching for the stars as a NASA technician; an inner-citychild joining a clinical team that discovers a cure for cancer at thenearest teaching hospital; a first-generation American helping tobuild the next generation of the Internet.

Henry Adams once said that teachers affect eternitybecause they can never tell where their influence stops. I believethe same can be said about mentors. And I thank you, each and everyone of you, for what you have done to help our country reach its fullpotential.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)


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