The State of the Union–and Arizona STEM education

January 25, 2011

By hammersmith

President Obama meets Cesar Chavez High School students Diego Vazquez and Antonio Hernandez

When President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address this evening, several Arizonans with ties to the state’s biosciences sector will be in attendance. Most prominent among them will be the medical team that cared for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords after she was shot Jan. 8 in Tucson, including University Medical Center physicians Randall Friese, Michael Limole and Peter Rhee, and intensive-care nurse Tracy Culbert.

Also on hand for the address will be someone who has spent less time in the spotlight: South Mountain Community College freshman Diego Vasquez, who will join Dr. Rhee and other honored guests in the First Lady’s box.

Vasquez, the White House announced Jan. 24, will be recognized for his participation as a member of Laveen Cesar Chavez High School’s 12-person team that participated in the 2009-2010 Lemelson-MIT Program’s InvenTeams celebration of innovation.

According to the White House, the Cesar Chavez team designed a “fully adjustable motorized chair for medically fragile individuals.” Vasquez and fellow Cesar Chavez student Antonio Hernandez represented the team at the White House Science Fair in October 2010, where he met President Obama and demonstrated how the prototype chair works.

At the October event, the president singled out the Arizona students for commendation:

We can think of Diego Vazquez and Antonio Hernandez, representing Cesar Chavez High School in Phoenix. Where are those guys? I met them earlier. There they are, right there. (Applause.) They developed a new motorized chair to help a classmate with disabilities—and won a grant competition as a result. They did not have a lot of money to do this. They didn’t have a lot of advantages in life. In fact, the first time they were ever on an airplane was when they flew to present their invention. But they did have a desire to work together to help a friend and to build something that never existed before.

And by the way, the way they funded their project—they had—they and their folks made tamales. They had a huge tamale-making session and were selling them. And they were showing me the video of how they raised the funds to be able to enter in this competition. Unbelievable.

That’s not just the power of science. That’s the promise of America. Anybody with a good idea can prosper. Anybody with talent can succeed. That’s why we’re here today. That’s what we’re all celebrating. And that’s why it’s so important that we promote math education and science education, on behalf of not just this generation but all the generations to follow.