How do you get tent caterpillars and termites to follow a circle on a piece of paper? Paint the circle with pheromones.
This was one of the many cool facts that kids and adults learned perusing the USDA exhibits at the USA Science & Engineering Festival this past weekend. I joined thousands of people during this three-day event designed to revive interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and promote careers in those fields.
Innovation is the foundation for new products and processes in agriculture and relies heavily on a solid knowledge base of STEM subjects. For USDA, educating our next generation of innovators is a top priority. Supporting the Administration’s goal to invest in our youth, USDA contributed about $92.5 M in 2010 towards the federal STEM investment. There have been great achievements made in agriculture science, but many challenges remain, including food security, helping farmers adapt to variable weather conditions and maintaining a clean, safe water supply. In order to meet our future food and agricultural challenges, we need to train more students in the STEM subjects to keep up with our scientific needs.
USDA employees from the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), Forest Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) enthusiastically volunteered their time at the festival. Many participants visited the USDA exhibits — answering trivia questions, learning about termites, inquiring about careers at USDA and getting to see how well someone really washes their hands.
Whatever the motivation, observing thousands of kids and adults getting “into” science, makes me confident that we are science strong in Washington, D.C. USDA science agencies are committed to delivering on their mission to help ensure a healthy, productive, safe and sustainable food and agricultural system, while protecting our healthy and our precious natural resources.
Whether it’s developing our youth in programs like 4-H or empowering students through higher education by providing scholarships and post-doctoral fellowships, USDA will continue to encourage students to pursue careers in science. Now more than ever we cannot relent in our support for food and agricultural science, nor neglect to educate and train the future scientists who will take the advances made today to new heights.
To find out more about USDA’s internship and scholarship programs, click here.