WASHINGTON (AP) — Ivanka Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday exhorted young girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math, saying those fields will provide the jobs and innovation for the future.
Their tour of the National Air and Space Museum with a group of middle school students came as the Trump administration proposed further cuts to education and science, drawing harsh criticism from teachers’ unions and others.
Ivanka Trump, a successful entrepreneur who considers herself as a women’s rights activist, lamented that women make up 48 percent of America’s work force but only 24 percent of STEM professionals.
“This statistic is showing that we are sadly moving in the wrong direction. Women are increasingly underrepresented in important fields of science, technology, engineering and math,” Trump said. “But I dare you to beat these statistics and advance the role of women in STEM fields.”
She said she and her 5-year-old daughter Arabella plan to take a coding class together this summer because “coding truly is the language of the future.”
Astronaut Kay Hire and female researchers at NASA also spoke to the students and DeVos urged the children to follow in their footsteps by studying, working hard and mentoring younger peers.
“You can do your part to improve the lives of women in the future,” DeVos said.
As she praised the role of women in the American space program, Ivanka Trump also said her father’s administration has expanded NASA’s space exploration to add Mars as a top objective. But as she spoke, the Trump administration sent Congress a series of “options” for budget cuts, including slashing $3 billion from Education Department, as well as cuts to NASA and the National Institutes of Health.
The American Federation of Teachers accused the administration of hypocrisy.
“Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Ivanka Trump are feigning an interest in STEM careers with a photo op at the National Air and Space Museum while eliminating all funding for NASA’s education programs. This takes chutzpah to a new level,” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said in a statement. “The next generation of astronauts, scientists, engineers and mathematicians need support, not budget cuts eliminating the very programs being promoted.”
But Gerard Robinson, a resident fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said that STEM was not limited to the Education Department and that other agencies, like the Defense Department, where Trump has proposed to increase spending, also have STEM programs.
Robinson added that President Donald Trump has signed two laws aimed at encouraging women to pursue STEM majors. The bills, which Trump signed into law in February, call on NASA to encourage young women to study STEM and empower the National Institutes of Health to support women in turning their scientific work into business ventures.
“Both of these are signs to me that both Trump and Betsy DeVos are committed to advancing women in stem fields,” Robinson said.