BEL AIR, Md. -- Regional academia, industry and government officials met at Harford Community College July 28 to find ways to lend their support to enriching science, technology, engineering and mathematics education in Harford and Cecil County schools.

The meeting, called STEM Summit III, brought together 85 keenly interested advocates of STEM education, including several area teachers on summer vacation.

Each attendee was asked to contribute to the STEM enrichment process, not just for the near term but to help make substantial changes and identify classroom needs that will make permanent improvements in the education of northeast Maryland students.

"The most impressive thing here today was the teachers who showed up. That's a good sign that there is interest at the teacher level [about] where we’re going and that they see the potential for results," said summit co-chairman John Casner, executive director of the Northeast Maryland Technology Council.

"We see the education of our youth as a national security issue. Our way of life is at risk," Casner said in his opening comments, echoing the concerns of many about America's decline in hard science and math.

"Our challenge is to increase the number of college graduates with the elements of education that will invigorate a science and technology economy. STEM elements are going to be important to everybody, not just those who want to be an engineer or a scientist, but also to those who want to succeed in life," he said.

"We've found, for example, that those who succeed in taking Algebra 2 have a 100 percent chance of completing college where those who don't have only a 50 percent chance of completing college," Casner continued. "Whether a student becomes a rocket scientist or a radiologist or an accountant they’ll be far better prepared to do the work and also understand the industries that are evolving and be more effective and efficient at what they do."

Casner introduced summit co-chairman, Gary Martin, executive deputy to the commanding general, U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command.

"It's tremendous how far we've carried the ball forward," Martin said of the summit's progress. "Your presence and the committee action plans are important. Everyone's contributions are important."

"We need all of you," said Joan Michel, coordinator of the four committees established to address STEM enrichment.

The committees were formed after the first summit to examine:

*how to excite students
*how to support teachers
*STEM content
*develop strategic communications

"Our committee’s biggest fear is that we’ll get some momentum around this this year and that'll be it," said Diane Lane from Cecil College and chairwoman of the excite students committee.

"We have what we like to call the usual suspects. Now we’re looking for the unusual suspects," Casner said about the need for individual and agency involvement.

A visible sign of progress, a web site, has been designed to support the summit's outreach. Erica Bertoli, U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center and member of the strategic communications committee, unveiled the web site.

"We've designed this with everyone in mind," Bertoli said, noting that the web site will become a repository for STEM enrichment information with links to pages specifically for students, parents, educators and the workforce.

"Through this collaboration, we will leverage the best the region has to offer with the goal of improving access to STEM resources for students, educators and parents," said Robert Carullo of Sabre Systems and the strategic communications committee chairman.

Martin, in closing comments, said there are many opportunities and ideas out there, and that people need to get engaged to launch the effort.

"Perhaps as a way to pull the thread to through all of these four areas, we should try to concentrate what we’re doing in one or two schools in each county. Let's see if we can collectively bring our communications strategy, our teacher enrichment strategy, our excite the kids strategy and mass it in one school and what the collective effect is."

Martin's last-minute suggestion created a stir.

"I'm not sure about doing it just a couple schools," said Anne Marie Bryant of Beacon Inc. "I see the value in it for the measurement -- it’s organic growth that you’re only going to get in one small piece."

"I don't have an alternative…yet," she continued. "You’ll get the spinoff within that school and everyone will get excited about it, and the other schools will be irritated that they’re behind and will be clawing to get a hold of the program. That would be a good outcome."

"It's a huge mountain we're trying to climb here," Bryant added. "It's a huge step. Everything is not going to happen until you get the communications and outreach in place."

A local defense contractor will host STEM Summit IV Oct. 28.