Two colleges offer BRAC options

The Baltimore Sun

After suggesting that Maryland is not developing the needed work force for defense jobs, the Fort Meade Alliance is encouraging the two community colleges closest to the growing Army post to promote distinct programs to meet national security needs.

Martha A. Smith, president of Anne Arundel Community College, told Fort Meade's lobbying arm at a meeting yesterday in Severna Park that the two-year school might create a specialized center around math, science, technology and homeland security that could draw top high school graduates, train professionals and harness the skills of defense industry retirees.

Representatives from Howard Community College spoke to the approximately 50 business and government officials at the meeting about the school's advances in teaching "critical languages," such as Arabic, Farsi and Chinese.

Some alliance leaders said they see regional benefits in promoting STEM -- science, technology, engineering and math -- at Anne Arundel's college and linguists at Howard County's college, including optimizing business and government participation.

"The regional approach is starting to take hold and can lead us where we want to be," said Jay Baldwin, president of the Fort Meade Alliance.

Bob Burdon, chief executive of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce, said there might be advantages to promoting distinctive "themes" at the colleges. "We can divide our efforts, so we can put in place the resources to do it," he said.

Nearly two months ago, an alliance report concluded that a shortage of workers with high-tech and other skills needed to fill defense and homeland security jobs threatened not only Maryland's economic development but also the nation's efforts to combat terrorism.

BRAC -- the federal base realignment and closure process -- is expected to bring an estimated 15,000 military and civilian jobs to Fort Meade in the next five years.

"We are all aware of the critical labor shortage," Smith said yesterday. "We are all aware that the name of the game is STEM, STEM, STEM."

Anne Arundel Community College officials said they envision a STEM center at the Arundel Mills mini-campus that would serve the needs of county residents. But some members of the alliance said they conceived it as a regional center that could build the high-tech work force across Central Maryland.

College officials said they hope the STEM center would entice college-bound students to pursue engineering, provide professionals with advanced high-tech retraining and attract retired defense workers back to the classroom as teachers.

Several organizations have expressed interest in a STEM center, including the National Security Agency, defense contractor Northrop Grumman and the Defense Information Systems Agency, which is moving 4,300 workers to Fort Meade by 2011.

Ted Imes, director of community and education outreach for Northrop Grumman's Electronic Systems, said the STEM center "would serve as a bridge" between students and the defense industry.

A STEM program could also help build the science and math teaching corps for Anne Arundel's public school system, said Maureen McMahon, director of advanced studies and programs for Anne Arundel County Public Schools.

"It's an initial step to think about how we can organize regionally," Col. Kenneth O. McCreedy, Fort Meade's commander, said of the STEM initiative. "If we can build areas of concentration to serve the broad community, we are not duplicating our efforts."

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