WASHINGTON (Army News Service, June 23, 2011) -- Sixteen teams composed of 59 student finalists from around the nation gathered here this past week as part of the Army's eCYBERMISSION National Judging and Educational Event.

The week-long event in the nation's capital was the final "real world" component to what had been an online competition for the student teams. At the Washington gathering, students showcased their projects in which science, technology, engineering and mathematics were used as part of the problem-solving process.

The students were kept busy throughout the week with sight-seeing, special guest appearances from celebrities such as Michael and Geoffery Howe from the Discovery Channel's "Howe and Howe Technologies," and the "Army Labs Day" -- a hands-on session where students interact with Soldiers, engineers and scientists.

The eCYBERMISSION competition, and the event in Washington, are both sponsored by the Army and managed by the Research, Development, and Engineering Command. The program promotes the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics studies, while also helping students recognize how STEM studies can be applied in real-life situations.

"Our main goal is to get them engaged into math and science early on," said the eCYBERMISSION program manager for RDECOM, Louie Lopez. "Programs like eCYBERMISSION really bring science fiction to life and get the students really excited."

Col. Kirk Benson, chief of staff of RDECOM, said the purpose of the Army Labs Day portion of the week was to motivate the kids, let them have a fun day and interact with each other and the Soldiers before they roll into the competitive portion of the event.

"We go out to cultivate, motivate or inspire interests with a focus on sixth through ninth graders," said Benson. "We can help motivate what they may do in high school or what they could do in a later career."

Sessions at the Army Labs Day included an "Army Strong" competition, night vision experiments and a parachute engineering challenge.

"I think it was really great and it was a great exposure for my team members and I," said Prajakta Kulkarni, a seventh grade student from Lakeland, Fla. "It was a good experience to see what was out there."

Kulkarni, whose favorite activity was the robotics demonstration, has big plans for her future. She hopes to continue in STEM studies and hopes to pursue a career in neuroscience, law, or aerospace engineering.

While the focus of eCYBERMISSION is to kindle student interest in STEM studies, Debbie Viertel, a fourth-year eCYBERMISSION advisor, said interacting with Soldiers is a highlight for her students.

"They love it," she said. "They really like getting with the Soldiers, seeing what they have done and connecting with them. These Soldiers are very motivating."

Master Sgt. Jermall Pittman had similar views.

"Being able to be a part of the future is awesome to us," he said. "To interact with the kids, to see them smile -- we get more out of it then we probably give to them."

After the interactive sessions concluded, the students were further exposed to Army life and were treated with "Meals, Ready-to-Eat."

The eCYBERMISSION program is a web-based science, technology, engineering and math competition for 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th grade teams. Participating teams propose a solution to a real problem in their communities and present their solution online as part of regional competition. Later, winning teams come to Washington to present projects in a national competition. As part of this year's competition, 16 teams were provided an opportunity to spotlight their projects.

The culmination of the eCYBERMISSION competition comes during the June 24 banquet in Washington, where Army leaders will recognize the 16 teams for their achievements and will announce the national-level winning team for each grade level.