ORLANDO, Fla. -- More than 3,000 of the brightest students from across the nation convened for a conference promoting careers and education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, commonly known as STEM.

The 23rd Annual Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Conference kicked off Oct. 6. Great Minds in STEM, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing STEM education, hosts the three-day conference.

Maj. Gen. Nick Justice, commanding general of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, applauded HENAAC's organizers for their efforts in sparking an interest in science and technology among America's youth.

"I'm thrilled with the opportunity to engage with the bright, young minds here. Our national security depends on the talents and hard work of our future scientists and engineers," Justice said. "America's military civilians involved in research and development are the key to empowering, unburdening and protecting our men and women in uniform.

"The Army could not accomplish its missions across the world without the expertise and support of our scientific backbone."

High-school and college students, military leaders, STEM outreach officials and defense contractors will participate in educational activities, presentations, awards shows and a career fair.

Several Army organizations, including RDECOM, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Army Accessions Command, are leading many of the conference's events.

"The Army is a high-tech organization. We will need aspiring scientists to design, engineer, test and maintain our future weapons, communications equipment, electronics and computer systems," Justice said.