ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- The U.S. Army's eCYBERMISSION program reported a record year in 2012 for science, technology, engineering and mathematics outreach, officials announced.

eCYBERMISSION is one of several STEM efforts offered by the Army Educational Outreach Program. AEOP provides student opportunities from elementary school to college and includes STEM competitions, real-world research opportunities, summer programs, career fairs, teacher professional development, and student internships.

In the 2011-12 school year, 15,406 students and 690 team advisers participated, said Louie Lopez, STEM outreach program manager for the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command. Both figures are the largest in the program's 10-year history.

RDECOM is the Army's executive agent for the eCYBERMISSION program, a web-based STEM competition for sixth- through ninth-grade students, in which teams compete for awards while working to solve problems in their community. The program is designed to encourage students to become more actively engaged in STEM education.

Registration numbers for 2012-13 competition year have already surpassed last year's figures. As of Jan. 2, 16,679 students and 948 team advisers had registered. The deadline is Jan. 15.

Retaining team advisers was a major focus in 2011-12, with the eCYBERMISSION team increasing the frequency of call and personalized e-mail campaigns to previous advisers. Retention has increased steadily from 24 percent in 2008-09 to 50 percent in 2011-12.

Retaining team advisers, primarily teachers in STEM subjects, establishes consistency and assists in recruiting students to participate, Lopez said.

The 2011-12 competition year also saw the largest number of volunteers in the program's history, with 1,773 ambassadors, cyber guides and virtual judges. This is a 25 percent increase over the previous year.

RDECOM Director Dale A. Ormond presented Presidential Volunteer Service Awards to three APG civilian employees Dec. 19 for their service to eCYBERMISSION.

"It's great things to get kids engaged in science and engineering, looking at problems and coming up with innovative solutions. None of this is possible without volunteers," Ormond said. "Science, technology and engineering is going to make a difference, and we have to get our young people involved."

The program relies heavily on volunteers to provide a successful experience for students, Lopez said. Volunteers promote the competition, provide online assistance to students, and evaluate and judge students' projects through the eCYBERMISSION web site.

The U.S. Military Academy has provided more than 600 virtual judges, the large majority of whom are cadets, annually for the past few years.

Forty-three U.S. states and territories increased the number of registered students in 2011-12, and 237 students registered from Department of Defense Education Activity schools in Armed Forces Europe and Armed Forces Pacific.

Since the program's inception in 2002, nearly 100,000 students have participated worldwide. The U.S. Army has awarded almost $9 million in savings bonds to winning teams.

Also new for the 2012-13 year is RDECOM's partnership with the National Science Teachers Association, a nonprofit organization that will oversee the program cycle for eCYBERMISSION.