ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (June 30, 2020) - An Army Futures Command research and development center received the Army Volunteer Award for supporting efforts in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) during the eCYBERMISSION National Judging & Educational Event, June 17-19.

The U.S. Army Educational Outreach Program (AEOP) awarded the Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C5ISR) Center for providing the most virtual judges from a single Army organization. 

This year, 29 scientists and engineers from the Center served as virtual judges for the Army-sponsored, web-based STEM competition for students in grades six through nine. Those judges reviewed and scored 663 projects submitted by students. The Center also provided nine regional judges, three reviewers for STEM-in-Action grant proposals, one of the four national mentors and two national judges. The Center also developed and administered an Army Technology Workshop during the national finals.

Established in 2015, the AEOP Army Incentive Program recognizes Army organizations that provide continued support to eCYBERMISSION. The C5ISR Center won first place each year since, with the exception of 2018, when it placed second.

C5ISR Center Director Patrick O’Neill and Michael Skurla, the Center’s director for software engineering, served as national judges multiple times. The directors recently discussed their experiences with the competition, their impressions of the student projects, and their enthusiasm for being part of eCYBERMISSION.

What keeps you coming back for another turn as a judge at eCYBERMISSION?

O’Neill: I volunteered because it’s a great opportunity to engage with students and our next generation of STEM professionals. It’s a very rewarding experience to work with such bright and engaging students, and I want them to know that S&T professionals care about them; that they are our future.

Skurla: I’ve been a judge for the last seven years, and every year it’s fun to see the ideas that are presented and to connect with the kids and encourage them to continue to innovate. It’s an amazing event and very exciting to be part of it.

What do you enjoy most about the event?

Skurla: The students choose their projects which can be anything - community-based, local level, state level, national or world level - and I learn so much about the issues that are important to them.  Their enthusiasm is contagious. The students are already winners when they arrive, but we’re the biggest winners because some of these ideas and technologies go forward and become working models.

This year was virtual, but in past years, when you’ve attended in person, how would you describe the atmosphere?

O’Neill: In a single word: ENERGY! When I participated in person, it was a great atmosphere and a wonderful opportunity to meet and talk with the both the STEM students and volunteers. It’s great to observe their boundless energy and teamwork.

Skurla: People say the students are strangers when they arrive, friends when they leave. The event offers a lot of excitement, supportiveness, team interaction and formed relationships.

Were there any projects that stood out this year?

O’Neill: Frankly, all of them. These are the best of the best from across this great country! The students found ways to use science, math and technology - in unlikely ways - to solve community challenges.

Skurla: The project that stood out for me involved using artificial intelligence and machine learning to better identify depression.* It has other real-world applications and it was amazingly well done.

*View this project and other winning projects at https://www.ecybermission.com/Winners.

Would you have participated in eCYBERMISSION as a student? What key traits does it help develop?

O’Neill: Yes, absolutely. The opportunity not only builds on technical/STEM skills, but also provides an opportunity to present and showcase the students’ efforts. It gives them a chance to speak in public – the first chance for many of them, especially the 6th and 7th graders. As these students continue their education and then launch their STEM careers, public speaking and presenting one’s work, to include getting feedback and guidance, are key skills to develop and utilize early…and eCYBERMISSION provides these excellent opportunities for the students.

How is eCYBERMISSION different than a science fair?

Skurla: I participated in science fairs, and resources were more limited and results were individually based. With eCYBERMISSION, the students work in teams and each team has a teacher/mentor who helps steer them to success. The available resources now are much better; being online gives teams access to professionals, universities and a broad range of expertise.

What key traits does eCYBERMISSION help develop, socially and STEM-wise?

Skurla: The students tackle huge projects and learn scientific methods, and this program teaches an “I CAN do it” versus a “science is too hard,” attitude. They build confidence in their own abilities. They learn how to work with a team and to trust and encourage their team members.

Why is it important to support STEM education?

O’Neill: Technology and innovation are the future, and that’s what the newest Army Command – Army “Futures” Command – is all about. eCYBERMISSION helps our students develop the skills that will make them future leaders and innovators. Hopefully, some of them will consider harnessing their skills through a career with the U.S. Army, which provides opportunities to protect America and help solve the problems we face as a nation.

Skurla: Our country’s growth is based on science and technology. We want to encourage that growth now and into the future. eCYBERMISSION STEM students are literally "Forging the Future!"

What advice would you share with students in terms of pursuing STEM endeavors?

O’Neill: I'd encourage students today to continue to seek and take advantage of every opportunity available to develop and showcase their talents -- eCYBERMISSION being one such forum. Opportunities like this are fun, educational and an excellent opportunity to hone their skills and meet other students and volunteers with similar interests.

For more information regarding eCYBERMISSION, visit https://www.ecybermission.com/About. Visit the AEOP website at https://www.usaeop.com/ to learn about other Army programs that promote STEM literacy and awareness. For information regarding the C5ISR Center’s Educational Outreach Program, visit https://c5isr.ccdc.army.mil/student_programs/ or contact the C5ISR Center Public Affairs Office: usarmy.apg.ccdc-c5isr.mbx.pao@mail.mil.

The C5ISR Center is the Army’s applied research and advanced technology development center for C5ISR capabilities. As the Army’s primary integrator of C5ISR technologies and systems, the center develops and matures capabilities that support all six Army modernization priorities, enabling information dominance and tactical overmatch for the joint warfighter.

The C5ISR Center is an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command. Through collaboration across the command’s core technical competencies, CCDC leads in the discovery, development and delivery of the technology-based capabilities required to make Soldiers more lethal to win our nation’s wars and come home safely. CCDC is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command.

Media inquiries may be directed to the C5ISR Center Office of Strategic Communications & Engagements.

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