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State of the Union: Edu-Stars Are Special Guests

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If there's any doubt that President Obama will stress education and innovation during tonight's speech, just look at the guests who will be sitting in First Lady Michelle Obama's box during the address, according to the White House.

Ursula M. Burns, Norwalk, Conn.: the chief executive officer of Xerox Corporation. Ms. Burns was named by the President to help lead the White House national campaign on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education in November 2009, and is on the board of Change the Equation, a coalition of more than 100 CEOs focused on STEM education that the President announced in September 2010.

Amy Chyao, Richardson, Texas: a 16-year-old high school junior, she has developed a photosensitizer for photodynamic therapy (PDT), an emerging cancer treatment that uses light energy to activate a drug that kills cancer cells. After her freshman year biology class, Amy became interested in cancer research and came up with an idea for improving the way medicine is designed. Over her summer vacation she taught herself some basic chemistry and began her research. With her work, Amy won the first place Gordon E. Moore Award at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, a program of Society for Science & the Public, in May 2010. Amy met the president at the October 2010 White House Science Fair.

Brandon Ford, Philadelphia: a junior at West Philadelphia High School, he is a leader of the West Philly Hybrid X Team, which includes students from an after-school program at the West Philadelphia High School Academy of Automotive and Mechanical Engineering. West Philadelphia is a public high school serving one of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in Philadelphia. Brandon and the Hybrid X team recently entered two cars in the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE competition, a global challenge that sought to deliver production-ready, highly fuel-efficient vehicles. As high school students, they successfully went head to head with corporations, universities and other well-funded organizations from around the world, even advancing to an elimination round with their Ford Focus that got an official 65.1 mpg. Brandon and the West Philly Hybrid X team attended the president's September 2010 "Change the Equation" event.

Mikayla Nelson, Billings, Mont.: Now a freshman at Central Catholic High School, she, as a middle schooler at Will James Middle School, led her Science Bowl team to a 1st place finish at the National Science Bowl for the design document of their solar car. They also won 5th place in the U.S. Department of Energy's Junior Solar Sprint. In addition to excelling academically, Mikayla is taking flying lessons in hopes of attaining her pilot's license, is building a 1932 Pietenpol Sky Scout airplane, runs her own birdhouse business, and is restoring a 1967 VW Beetle. She also works at a local hobby store to help cover the cost of her school tuition. Mikayla is working towards acceptance at the United States Air Force Academy, where she hopes to major in mechanical engineering. Mikayla met the president at the October 2010 White House Science Fair.

Kathy Proctor, Winston-Salem, N.C.: Grew up in Trinity, N.C., where, after graduating, she went to work in the furniture industry like many others in the area. About six years ago, Ms. Proctor realized that furniture jobs were dwindling and started taking math and English classes at night and on weekends to brush up on her skills after being out of school for so long. When she was laid off in 2009, Ms. Proctor began taking classes in biotechnology at Forsyth Technical Community College. Ms. Proctor will graduate in July 2011, with an Associate Degree in Science, and hopes to attain a job working as a bio-fuels analyst. She met the president when he visited Forsyth Tech in early December 2010.

Diego Vasquez, Phoenix: Currently a freshman at South Mountain Community College, he was a member of the 12 person-team from Cesar Chavez High School, in Laveen, Ariz., that won a grant through the Lemelson-MIT Program's InvenTeams initiative for their design of a fully adjustable motorized chair for medically fragile individuals. The team decided to design the chair, which is to be used primarily for physical therapy, after seeing a disabled friend and fellow student struggle at school. Mr. Vasquez met the president at the October 2010 White House Science Fair, where the community college student represented his team and demonstrated their chair.

UPDATE (1/26): And one of Politics K-12 favorite readers points out that House Speaker John Boehner made his own statement with the guests he packed in his box: supporters of the D.C. voucher program, including students who are taking advantage of these vouchers.

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