SAN ANTONIO (Jan. 6, 2012) -- Nearly 1,000 students from five local high schools took part in interactive science and technology demonstrations presented by U.S. Army educational outreach coordinators, scientists and engineers this week.

The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, or RDECOM, led the outreach effort as part of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl Week activities.

The purpose of the school tours, according to Louie Lopez, RDECOM Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM, outreach coordinator, is to "emphasize the importance of science, technology, engineering and math and its necessity to the strength of our nation."

The students received an overview of U.S. Army STEM programs and opportunities from Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center representatives, an interactive robotics technology demonstration by the Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center, known as TARDEC, and applied chemistry in food sciences demonstration by the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center.

"Of all the things that our scientists, our engineers and our mathematicians make, as far as I am concerned the most important thing is to help make the next generation of innovative thinkers," said Erica Bertoli, CERDEC outreach program manager, to the students. "No matter what our engineers build and our Soldiers do out in the field, our young people are the most important thing our nation is building up to support the future. So that's all you guys, and that's why we're out here today."

Lt. Col. Andres Contreras, a robotics specialist with TARDEC, gave the students an idea of his background in the Army.

"You don't have to serve in the uniform like we have to go out there and serve your country," he told the students. "You can become an engineer. You can work in sciences. All the technology we utilize has science behind it."

RDECOM's Sgt. Major Matthew DeLay agreed.

"I've been an infantryman for 23 years and loved every minute of it," he said, "but anything and everything we use, whether it's for driving, shooting, wearing, to look through -- any type of equipment you can imagine -- comes from the research and development side of the house."

Alejandra Marez is a 10th grade student at Kipp University Prep School and is captain of the robotics team. He said he's been interested in engineering since he was eight years old.

"At first I thought I wanted to be an astronomer," he said, "but I became more interested in the equipment involved and thought it would be cool to build that stuff."

Many of Marez's family members have served in the military, he said.

"But I didn't know the civilian side (of the Army) until today," he said. "I'll definitely look into it now that I know."