J. Tayo Ogunmayin was still half-asleep when her father rushed into her room and told her to take what would turn out to be the most exciting phone call of her life.
Nadine Skinner, the program manager of Girls Inc. of Oakland, was on the other end of the receiver with totally unexpected news: Ogunmayin had been selected to go to the White House and meet President Obama.
“I really thought it was a prank call,” said Ogunmayin, 15, a freshman at Berkeley High School.
Just a few days later Ogunmayin found herself flying from Berkeley to Washington D.C. to show off a science project on solar buses at the White House Science Fair. Each year, the President’s Office of Science and Technology Policy selects 100 students from around the country who have done exemplary experiments in science, technology, engineering and math to come to the capitol and meet top officials, scientists, and corporate leaders.
Ogunmayin and Eva Perez, 14, from Envision High School in Oakland, had been selected for their design of a solar-powered, zero emissions bus for AC Transit. The two girls had done the experiment under the auspices of InnovaTE^3, a project of Girls Incorporated of Alameda County. The nonprofit, which provides year-round academic achievement and skills-building programs to girls, teamed up with SRI International, TERC, and the National Science Foundation to create a curriculum that engages girls in engineering, green design, and entrepreneurship.
“For Tayo and Eva, the life-changing nature of the White House Science Fair was exponential,” according to the website of Girls Inc . “Taking buses, BART and eventually a red-eye flight to Washington, the girls giddily began a series of firsts: the first time they purchased “professional outfits;” the first time they flew on a plane; the first time they stayed in a hotel; the first time they met leading STEM advocates like Bill Nye the Science Guy, and senior government administration officials; the first time they shook a President’s hand.”
Ogunmayin and Perez got to the White House early in the morning of February 7. They were ushered into the East Room, then, all of a sudden, White House aides told Ogunmayin to go sit in a special section. It turned out that she was one of 17 students selected to sit behind President Obama when he gave a speech that was broadcast on television.
At the end of Obama’s 15-minute speech, he came around to shake the students’ hands. For once in her life, Ogunmayin found herself speechless.
“It was such an amazing moment,” she said. “I couldn’t think of anything to say. The only thing I could manage to say was ‘hi.’ He told me ‘thank you.’ It’s a moment that I’m never going to forget – ever.”
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