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IMS Whiz Kid Invited to White House Science Fair

IMS eighth-grader Jasper Hugunin is an exhibitor at the second-annual White House Science Fair in Washington, D.C.

IMS Whiz Kid Invited to White House Science Fair

eight-grader Jasper Hugunin is one of 100 middle and high school students invited to take part in the second annual White House Science Fair in Washington, D.C.—including a chance to present his project to President Obama—on Tuesday, Feb. 7.

The White House Science Fair will present a variety of student winners from science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) competitions from across the country. Jasper, 13, was one of 12 winners honored last March at the National STEM Video Game Challenge for middle school students. He received awards in two categories: "Best Playable Game - Open Platform" and "Best Playable Game Incorporating STEM Themes."

The invitation came as something of a surprise to Jasper's mother, Aleta Finnila, and the rest of the family. The family was contacted at the end of January by organizers from the STEM Video Game Challenge and asked if they could come to the White House next week.

"We just jumped at the chance," she said. "He seems pretty calm about it—even when I went out and bought him a new jacket and tie. I think this is a wonderful opportunity for him. When you work really hard at any project, you never know what good things can come of it."

Finnila said Jasper and his father, Jim Hugunin, hurriedly purchased two last-minute tickets to Washington, D.C., and flew out last Saturday to stay in rooms reserved by STEM Challenge and other Science Fair organizers.

His winning game—called "Robot Commander"—introduces players to programming concepts as they provide instructions to guide a robot through increasingly challenging mazes, according to a White House press release (Robot Commander can be played at  http://www.trickmania.com). 

"There's no guarantee that they'll get to talk to the president," Finnila said. "I'm just hoping for a group picture."

President Obama is scheduled to view exhibits of student work from 10 to 11:25 a.m., when he's scheduled to speak at a press event.

Due to a press blackout, Finnila said they weren't able to tell anyone about the invite—not even Jasper's teachers at IMS—until last weekend.

The press release also announces key steps that the Obama Administration and its partners are taking to help more students excel in math and science, and earn degrees in these subjects. Since taking office, President Obama has sought to raise the profile of math and science education in public schools.

“If you win the NCAA championship, you come to the White House," said Pres. Obama, speaking at the inaugural White House Science Fair.

"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.” 

Mercer Island Patch recognized Jasper as a Patch "Whiz Kid" last April in an .

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