Exceptional students who excel in science, technology, engineering and math were invited to show their best work at the White House Science Fair on Tuesday, and President Barack Obama elevated their significance as he would have any athlete. NY1's Cheryl Wills filed the following report.
When Elana Simon was 12 years old, she was diagnosed with a rare form of pediatric liver cancer. She's 18 years old now and cancer-free, but she remembers all too well how doctors were initially puzzled by her illness.
"My diagnosis process was pretty difficult," she said. "They at first thought I had lactose intolerance."
With a passion for science and research, the Upper East Side student teamed up with her surgeon and found a common mutation that causes the disease. She hopes to someday develop a blood test to diagnose young patients.
At the White House Science Fair on Tuesday she had the opportunity to show President Barack Obama firsthand how she came up with the idea.
Dozens of students who have a passion for science, engineering, technology and math came to the White House to showcase their award-winning STEM projects, and they were admittedly star-struck when the president showed interest in their work.
"It was absolutely surreal," said Eric Chen of San Diego, California. "I still can't really believe it."
"It's an honor to represent my state, my high school and my team," said Diedre Carrillo of San Antonio, Texas.
Obama took the opportunity to announce a new initiative focusing exclusively on girls and women.
"Right now, fewer than one in five bachelor degrees in engineering or computer science are earned by women," Obama said. "Fewer than three in 10 workers in science and engineering are women. We've got to change those numbers.
This was music to the ears of 12-year-old Jayda Collazo from the Bronx. Tuesday was the first time she ventured outside of New York City, and she found herself standing shoulder to shoulder with the president on stage.
The 12-year-old has dreams of becoming a pediatrician.
"I like helping children and their health because I have younger siblings at home," she said.
The president's announcement coincides with Time Warner Cable's Connect A Million Minds initiative. Executives say they have exceeded their goal to get 1 million young people connected to STEM education.
"We know so much of our workforce has to have expertise in science, technology, math and engineering, so the idea that we could provide a pipeline for the next generation of cable engineers, that's pretty exciting stuff," said Rob Marcus, Chairman and CEO of Time Warner Cable.
Time Warner Cable is the parent company of NY1 News. To find out more about Time Warner Cable's Connect a Million Minds Initiative, visit connectamillionminds.com.