ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - More than 600 Boy Scouts from surrounding counties to include Deleware and Virginia gathered at Aberdeen Proving Ground Oct. 15 for the first ever STEM Merit Badge Day hosted by Team APG.

Volunteers from APG organizations helped the scouts earn merit badges in one of 16 STEM related fields.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics and is considered to be the
foundation for academic and professional fields of an advanced society. To engage youth members in STEM, the BSA has created a new emphasis that incorporates elements of STEM in its current advancement programs.

During the opening ceremonies Maj. Gen. Nick Justice, senior installation commander and an Eagle Scout himself, led the reciting of the Scout Oath and Scout Law.

Matt Myers, who oversees the BSA's National STEM initiative, thanked Justice, the many STEM
volunteers who guided the Scouts on their educational quest, and the parents and troop leaders who transported the scouts to APG. Myers explained to the Scouts that this event was the biggest of its kind in the nation thus far.

The registered Scouts chose the top 16 of the 38 STEM-oriented merit badges offered. These included Architecture, Automotive Maintenance, Aviation, Chemistry, Composite Materials, Computers, Electronics, Engineering, Environmental Science, Metalwork, Nuclear Science, Radio, Robotics, Space Exploration, Veterinary Medicine and Weather.

Along with the training stations, APG organizations displayed technologies and innovations currently in use by government civilians and Soldiers to show how STEM education applies to career fields currently in use by Team APG's research, engineering test and evaluation organizations as well as in other Department of Defense careers.

At one display, Sgt. 1st Class Jim Fuller showed scouts various uses for electronic snap circuitry which uses building blocks with snaps to build different electrical and electronic circuits for gadgets, projects, games and experiments.

Fuller said the display was part of the STEM summer program hosted by the U.S. Army Communication-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center.

"This is designed to give kids the opportunity to experience science in a relaxed setting," he said.

"It's a matter of getting kids to think in terms of science and engineering," said Erica Bertoli, CERDEC lead education outreach specialist. "We've put a lot of emphasis on improving [STEM] visibility in the local community."

A group of Scouts looked on eagerly as U.S. Army Research Laboratory engineer Steve Taulbee and computer scientist Ralph Brewer demonstrated advancements in armor materials. They displayed a prototype of the Enhanced Combat Helmet (ECH) which will replace the Kevlar helmet.

"It offers 30 to 35 percent more protection with the same weight," Taulbee told the Scouts, adding that the same material will go on armored windows to reduce the weight while increasing ballistic protection.

Scouts and their leaders expressed their appreciation for the day's events.

James Hunt, Scout leader for Troop 721 out of Odenton, Md., said his group was one of several members of the Baltimore Area Council in attendance.

"Some required tasks are difficult to get to so to have an event like this makes it easier for the Scouts and their parents," he said. "I really like the way it was organized and all of the displays were pretty cool too."

Twelve-year-old James Martin and fellow Scout Ryan Tickman, 15, from Troop 973 in Abingdon, agreed.

"I liked how everything was set up, especially all the military stuff," Martin said.

Tickman said that they not only got a lot done, but had fun doing it.

"I enjoyed the whole day," he said.

Jill Black, a parent volunteer, attended the event with her 11-year-old son Andrew and 17 other scouts from Troop 1111 out of Elkridge, Md.

She called the STEM Merit Badge Day a great experience.

"I even got to watch them launch a rocket today," she said. "This was just so well put together and organized. And it was wonderful the Army would open up the post to us this way. It's been a great experience for all of us."

The BSA's STEM initiative gives Scouts an opportunity to explore relevant skills and experiences and for their achievements to be recognized. The aim is to expose youth to opportunities and help them develop skills critical for the competitive world market. Starting in early 2012, Scouts of all ages can earn the BSA's trailblazing NOVA Award, based on the STEM program. The NOVA program consists of individual activity elements in various STEM topics structured for either Cub Scouts or Boy Scouts/Venturers. The topics are designed to encourage participation and to increase interest in STEM by making it relevant and fun. For more information, visit www.scouting.