National STEM Video Game Winners at the White House Science Fair

by Christa Avampato
April 24, 2013
Golden Rockefeller and Wilfried Hounyo at the White House Science Fair

Wilfried Hounyo (left) and Golden Rockefeller pictured with Charles Bolden, Administrator of NASA, a retired UN Marine Corps General, and former NASA astronaut

From a water filtration system powered by a stationary bike to a writing system that aids those afflicted by neurological hand tremors, the White House was brimming with the creations of young innovators at the third annual White House Science Fair. One hundred students from 40 different states attended the event, proudly accompanied by their teachers, parents, and mentors. It’s hard to overestimate the excitement of being invited to the White House by President Obama. I’m not sure who was more thrilled – the students or the adults – to be in those hallowed halls, sharing our passion for STEM education and careers.

Why would the White House host a science fair? President Obama plainly and earnestly made the case for this event, which he refers to as one of his favorite events of the year.

“If you win the NCAA championship, you come to the White House. Well, if you’re a young person and you produce the best experiment or design, the best hardware or software, you ought to be recognized for that achievement, too.”

Gustavo Zacarias at the White House Science Fair

Gustavo Zacarias at the White House Science Fair with his sister

Three of the 2012 National STEM Video Game Challenge winners attended the event. Gustavo Zacarias, a middle school student from San Antonio, Texas, built The Dark Labyrinth on Kodu and was invited to exhibit his video game at the fair. The Dark Labyrinth is a 3-D maze that players navigate by solving math challenges. Gustavo began playing video games at age 4, and plans to build a career as a video game designer.

“I never thought I would be exhibiting my game at the White House,” said Gustavo. “I worked very hard during the making of the game and was very happy about winning a national competition, so I’m very excited and thankful for the opportunity to be part of this great event.”

Gustavo was joined by two students from the D.C.-area, Golden Rockefeller and Wilfried Hounyo, who won the Open Platform high school category of the National STEM Video Game Challenge. Golden is now a 16-year old freshman at University of Delaware studying mechanical engineering. Wilfried, a junior in high school, is currently looking at Berkeley, Stanford, and Penn State, where he plans to study computer science as a path to eventually work for NASA. Their game, Electrobob, teaches players about the nature of electrons by combining subject matter from physics, chemistry, and robotics.

Halfway through the fair, all attendees were escorted into the East Room to hear President Obama speak about the importance of STEM education and his continued financial and program support for it. Wilfried and Golden joined President Obama on stage as he repeatedly stated how amazed and inspired he was by all of the students at the fair.

“Young people like this have to make you hopeful about the future,” he said.

The President made several significant announcements during his speech:

  • A new AmeriCorps program focused on STEM education.
  •  The launch of US2020—a campaign by ten leading education nonprofits and U.S. technology companies to encourage companies to commit 20 percent of their STEM employees to 20 hours per year of mentoring or teaching by the year 2020.
  • The Summer of Making and Connecting program will encompass more than 1,000 summer learning events hosted by leading education-based organizations; the Joan Ganz Cooney Center of Sesame Workshop is one of the organizations involved.

The President concluded the event with a simple, powerful statement that resonated with teachers, parents, and mentors all around the country.

“We’ve got to do everything we can to make sure that we are giving these young people opportunity to pursue their studies and discover new ways of doing things. And we’ve got to make sure that we’re also leaving behind a world that is safer and cleaner and healthier than the one we found. That’s our obligation…students, we could not be prouder of all of you.”