VICENZA, Italy (April 3, 2014) -- Students at Vicenza middle and high schools heard from one of the Army's top engineer leaders today about the importance of developing their interests and abilities in mathematics and science.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers North Atlantic Division Commanding General Brig. Gen. Kent Savre visited Vicenza schools to speak about the connection between science, technology, engineering and mathematics to the Army and nation, but most of all, as a great vocational choice for young people today.

Savre met with several dozen middle schoolers in the library, where he spoke about the many practical applications of science and mathematics, with an emphasis on continuing to take available classes in those subjects to avoid falling behind and limiting future career choices. Students attending the session were participants in the eCYBERMISSION program, or in a winning group for Mathcounts, and those sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders who had voiced their interest in possible STEM careers, Vicenza Middle School science teacher Kim Stevenson said.

"We're really trying to encourage and promote careers in STEM fields, so we're trying to get our sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders to be more involved and active in specifically those four areas," she said.

Engaging the middle school students, the general presented the wide variety of engineering disciplines, the types of interesting work they do and interests the children have now that might relate to a fulfilling future STEM career.

"We try to adapt our curriculum to fit STEM, and it's not very difficult if you teach science, because we do use technology and also mathematics with the science," said James Brown, a VMS sixth-grade science teacher. "The engineering aspect is the problem-solving. That's what we try to teach our students to do; to solve problems through life. Hopefully, they'll catch on and get a spark lit today."

After answering the middle school students' questions, ranging from what Army Sappers do to what educational direction to head for an aeronautical engineering career, the general continued his mission to speak to students at Vicenza High School.

"STEM is really important to America right now because we're starting to fall behind against the rest of the world," Savre said. "If you look at ninth-grade students across the country, the statistics show that only six out of 100 will actually get STEM degrees. We need to encourage a lot more so we can accomplish what we need to as a nation in the future."

Speaking with the high school students, Savre emphasized that despite current high unemployment among young Americans, those with STEM degrees remain in high demand.

"Keep taking those difficult classes. You might not be a 'math genius', but having those courses can open up many more possibilities," he said. "The Army and America need science, technology, engineering and math for everything we do. We need our brightest minds taking STEM courses in high school and earning STEM degrees in college to solve the toughest challenges we will have in the future."

The general said USACE is reaching out to students at every grade level to encourage them to take the tough courses and pursue STEM.

"Once they go on to college, we're arranging internships for interested STEM students with the Corps of Engineers and giving them practical experience with engineering, math, environmental solutions and some of the more complex construction that we're doing across the nation," Savre said. "It has been my honor today to spend some time with Vicenza High School students who are interested in STEM degrees, just great kids with bright futures."

Savre was accompanied on the visit by USACE Europe District Commander Col. Pete Helmlinger and Col. Donald Degidio, USACE North Atlantic Division deputy commander. The itinerary in Vicenza also included meetings with U.S. Army Africa Commanding General Maj. Gen. Patrick Donahue and members of his engineer staff, the U.S. Army Garrison Vicenza Directorate of Public Works and the USACE Europe District Mediterranean Area Office on Caserma Ederle.