The White House honored Virginia “Jinny” Stern, former director of the AAAS Entry Point! program, as a Champion of Change for her work over four decades to increase opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) for persons with disabilities.
When Stern and her colleagues at AAAS launched Entry Point! in 1996, they recognized that talented students with disabilities need more than legislation and degrees to gain employment in their chosen fields. Hundreds of the program’s alumni have participated in high-level internships with government agencies and industry, and they continue to advance in the nation’s STEM workforce.
Stern was one of 14 persons honored in a 7 May ceremony at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building for making STEM education and employment more accessible to persons with disabilities. “These leaders are proving that when the playing field is level, people with disabilities can excel in STEM, develop new products, create scientific inventions, open successful businesses, and contribute equally to the economic and educational future of our country,” said Kareem Dale, associate director at the White House Office of Public Engagement and special assistant to President Barack Obama for disability policy.
The Champions of Change program, part of the president’s Winning the Future initiative, honors educators, entrepreneurs, and community leaders for their work to serve and strengthen their communities.
Stern began work on the AAAS Project on Science, Technology and Disability disabilities who had careers in STEM so they could inspire the next generation.
“This is what we know: People with disabilities in engineering, science, or other professions are not problems; they are problem solvers,” Stern wrote in a blog post about the Champions of Change honor. “They have created strategies and solutions for their personal and academic lives, and now for their careers,” Internships have given them the skills and real-life work experiences that empowers them to contribute to the technological enterprise of the nation.
“I continue to believe that for every person with a disability who held an [Entry Point!] internship and is employed in STEM, they themselves have changed and caused a positive ripple effect on the expectations and attitudes of more than 100 other Americans: parents of newly diagnosed children; doctors and therapists; teachers; classmates; work colleagues; industry managers; gate keepers in higher education and professional associations; community leaders; and next-door neighbors.”
Kelly Gilkey, an Entry Point! alumna, nominated Stern as a Champion of Change. When Gilkey was preparing for college, she looked up information on careers at NASA and found out about Entry Point!. Through the program, Gilkey interned at the NASA Johnson Space Center with Wyle Laboratories where she studied the biomedical aspects of spaceflight.
Gilkey now works as a lab manager and engineer at NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. “I can unequivocally say that Entry Point! opened doors for me to work at NASA,” she said. “Jinny is most deserving of recognition at a national level for her work in making the Entry Point! program a reality.”
That praise was echoed by Shirley Malcom, director of Education and Human Resources at AAAS. “AAAS has been fortunate to attract committed leaders such as Virginia Stern, who work tirelessly to understand obstacles to persons with disabilities who wish to enter the STEM workforce, leaders who then develop innovative programs that address these barriers,” Malcom said
At the event, Todd Park, White House chief technology officer, encouraged the Champions of Change to continue their work. “Please don’t treat it [the Champions of Change award] as an end point, which I know none of you will,” he said. “We need all hands on deck.”
Learn more about the White House Champions of Change.
Learn more about the AAAS Entry Point! program
Watch the White House Champions of Change event.