After getting a crash course on how thousands of technology jobs are coming to Fort Meade in the next five years, Dahmar Smiles thinks he just might go to an in-state college after all.
By the time the Meade High School junior graduates from college, the Defense Information Systems Agency will have moved its headquarters from Northern Virginia to the Army base in western Anne Arundel County as part of the Base Realignment and Closure process, known as BRAC.
That agency's move could bring at least 4,700 high-paying jobs to Maryland in 2010. Dahmar said college students who take advantage of local internships will have the advantage when it comes to hiring.
"With the jobs coming, why leave?" he said.
Friday's BRAC Technology Day, sponsored by area businesses and public school officials, was based on the theme that students who study math, science and engineering can stay in Maryland and expect to land a job.
Science Applications International Corp., a government contractor, was one of the sponsors of the event, attended by about 200 students from Meade, Arundel, Broadneck and North County high schools. Only a few hands went up when the company's BRAC coordinator, Jeffrey McGaughey, asked the teenagers whether they knew what BRAC was.
All told, the consolidation of military posts could bring 30,000 to 50,000 jobs to Maryland in the next 10 years, he said.
"It bodes very well for everyone sitting in this room," McGaughey said. "You don't have to go far from home. There are a lot of opportunities."
His company, Science Applications, is a member of the Fort Meade Alliance, a co-sponsor of the event along with Anne Arundel Community College, which held the seminar at its Arundel Mills campus. The Fort Meade Alliance is focused on bringing opportunities from the military base to local businesses.
SAIC, a California-based company with 50,000 employees, made presentations to show students some of the technology jobs its divisions perform at Fort Meade and Aberdeen Proving Grounds. The 30-minute demonstrations were supposed to show students the practical applications of subjects they are studying in school.
In one room, SAIC engineers showed students the protective gear and equipment the company makes for soldiers who might be exposed to chemical, biological, nuclear or explosive weapons.
Dahmar, 17, reluctantly held a black rubber gas mask to his face and pulled the black hairnet over the back of his head. He seemed more interested in the infrared-imaging device.
He moved the viewing screen around the room to see heat sources, such as classmates, glow white on the gray screen.
The sensors - so sensitive they can pick up the heat of people's footprints - can help soldiers see through smoke or darkness, said Chris Watson, a SAIC program engineer. Students passed around Geiger counters that are used to detect radiation.
The devices, which look like large flashlights, can detect whether the radiation is from medical treatment or the type of dangerous ionizing radiation that can damage cells.
Dahmar left that presentation feeling confident about his choice to major in computer science.
"I think a lot of kids think about becoming doctors and lawyers," said Dahmar, who is interested in software development. "Computer science ... brings all the fields together."
Students listened to presentations about the convergence of voice, data and video in telecommunications, and the importance of algorithms in making public policy decisions.
Research analysts from the Decision Support and Analysis Center, a division of SAIC in Hanover, showed students how analysts could use custom software to assess the effect of BRAC on Maryland's schools, roads and hospitals.
They showed students the complicated algorithms programmed into the software.
Lenee Silver, 16, a junior at Meade High, said she has mapped out a potential career in computer security. She wants to prevent hackers from tapping into top-secret information stored in computer systems and envisions a job at the National Security Agency, which has its headquarters at Fort Meade.
Lenee is scouting colleges in Maryland and Virginia.
"I'd like to stay," she said. "I like this area."
Beverly Frye, site coordinator for the new Academy of Information Technology at Arundel High School, said the information and advice given the students yesterday - to stay drug-free and out of jail so that they can qualify for security clearances - are more effective when they come from sources other than teachers.
"We want these kids to realize that if they don't start thinking now, they might not be able to get into the fields they want," Frye said.