ABERDEEN, Md. - In a room full of regional business and technology leaders at a breakfast meeting, two young faces stand out. These local high school students are preparing to explain their capstone research project to the March meeting of the Northeastern Maryland Technology Council.

David Bowman and Kristofer Castro, both students at the Science and Mathematics Academy at Aberdeen High School, are partnering with Army Research Laboratory scientists to help them focus their efforts and explore new horizons.

"A colleague of mine, Mr. Robert Reschly, and I have been mentoring Kris and David," said Dr. Lisa M. Marvel, Ph.D., Army Research Laboratory. "We have enjoyed working with the students and have submitted a topic for next year's capstone project."

Bowman and Castro spoke confidently to the technology council about their test results and the knowledge gained from their Voice over Internet Protocol research. Their project explores computer network traffic and how voice is transmitted under various conditions.

"We're testing VoIP and building a database to understand packet traffic," Castro explained to the council.

The students detailed the many challenges they have faced, from learning a new operating system to developing standardized scripts for testing network traffic under consistent conditions.

John Casner, NMTC executive director host of the event, said he was proud of the students.

"From student feedback, they leave knowing they can hold their own with adults, gain confidence in public speaking, be recognized and may even find others to mentor them or offer internship opportunity," Casner said. "Seeing month after month serious-minded, articulate 17-year-olds present complex science research, we all become the 'proud parent.'"

As students at Aberdeen's Science and Mathematics Academy, Castro and Bowman are taking advantage of a unique program. The academy began in 2004 with a concept proposed by the Army and other science professionals associated with nearby Aberdeen Proving Ground. Federal, state, and local funds support the effort to bring this educational opportunity to students and staff.

"There are lots of APG scientists who mentor the capstone projects," Marvel said.

The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command is committed to strengthening Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics studies with educational outreach efforts to local schools.

"The program provides students with the opportunity to experience challenging coursework in science, mathematics, and technology with an emphasis on research and real world application," school officials said on their Web site. "Regular contact with practicing scientists and mathematicians is a cornerstone of the program and seniors complete a capstone project of original research under the mentorship of professionals in their chosen area of investigation."

For students appearing in front of the council, the confidence and experience is invaluable.

"Speaking at NMTC meetings allows students to network with professionals regarding college and major choices," said SMA Superintendent Donna Clem. "I always hope that a student might find an internship. It helps them develop confidence."

Clem said seeing students speak makes her proud to be part of a program that encourages students to achieve in STEM areas.

"Never underestimate what a 17-year-old can do," she said.