ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND -- The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command is poised to coordinate local efforts of educating area students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, known as STEM.

STEM education is an initiative now being shouldered by education, industry and government leaders with the goal of improving students' performance and achievement. It is an endeavor being implemented throughout the country, usually on an independent basis.

"Our goal is to create a culture that focuses on STEM," Dr. Jeffrey Lawson, executive director for high school education in Cecil County said.

To help define a more cohesive program for the area, RDECOM is conducting a STEM summit Feb. 11. Invited officials from regional education, private industry and government will meet in an attempt to streamline local STEM initiatives.

The goals of the summit are to identify ways to stimulate students' participation in STEM, propose STEM enrichment opportunities for teachers, and organize industry and government support to advance STEM education curricula.

"There is so much STEM horsepower in this area. What we are beginning to do is harness all of the horses and start pulling in the same direction," Dr. Robert Tomback, Harford County superintendent of schools said recently.

The current lack of a cohesive STEM effort, particularly in the era of Base Realignment and Closure at Aberdeen Proving Ground, presents problems for those involved. It leads to missed opportunities and wasted or misused resources.

"There are so many terrific efforts underway, but at this point, the efforts are not coordinated," Tomback said.

"What we have as STEM is different than what people from other counties and states. That is one of the problems. STEM is not defined nationally," Frank Cardo, instructional coordinator for science in Cecil County said.

Though STEM efforts in the state are in relative infancy, students who have completed the programs are showing improved success compared to their peers.

"STEM leads to increased enrollment and achievement in advanced placement classes. STEM students enter higher education with an academic edge and have better matriculation into college," Lawson said.

Students who pass an AP exam are three times more likely to graduate from college within five years, according to a study conducted in Texas by the National Center for Educational Accountability. Even if they fail the AP exam, students are still twice as likely to graduate college within five years. African American and low-income students who pass an AP exam are five and six times, respectively, more likely to graduate college within five years.

Organizers also point out that STEM education goes far beyond taking AP courses and focusing strictly in the areas of science and mathematics.

"Do not confuse STEM in Cecil County with simply taking AP classes. AP happens to be just a piece of the course requirements within the STEM Academy," Lawson said.

"We have a responsibility to provide students with a well-rounded education because, ultimately, that's what we want," Tomback said.

"The focus is not just on science and mathematics," Joanna Seiberling from Guidance Services and Counseling in Cecil County said. "When they finish the STEM program, they are well-rounded students because we know that is important. They need to have the full package. And when they complete the program, they do."