BAE Systems President, DeEtte Gray, participated in a discussion with U.S. Army officials and more than 30 directors, executive directors, CEOs and other national leaders in education on how both the public and private sectors can advance science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education to develop a more skilled and prepared youth workforce for the future.

Gray, a former North Carolina school teacher, retraced her own steps down a STEM career path.

“On weekends, you’d typically find me doing science experiments in my backyard,” said Gray. “In those days, girls weren’t supposed to be good at math and science.”

Gray credits the inspiration of Sally Ride, the first American woman to travel to space, and the power of a good education for elevating her interest in pursuing a STEM career. She later went on to get a degree in math and science at North Carolina State University.

“I wanted to ignite that same interest in STEM that my mentors gave me,” said Gray.

Today, Gray sits as the president of a business that provides customers with Cybersecurity, IT and Geospatial Technology solutions to support national security missions.

“STEM skills are central to almost everything we do,” said Gray. “We have to reach the children and capture their hearts so they’re interested in math and science. I need that pipeline of talent.”

The event was coordinated by the U.S. Army and held at Fort Myer in Arlington, Va. The Army understands the challenges of STEM recruiting all too well. Of the 39 million young adults in the United States ages 17 to 24, the Pentagon reports that 75 percent do not qualify to join the U.S. military because they cannot meet the physical, behavioral, or educational standards for service. The Army says it is expecting to have 2.8 million STEM job opportunities by 2020 based on growth and retirements.

“We all need to engage our nation’s young people through STEM-related education and outreach programs,” said Gray. “These efforts are vital to our physical security, our cybersecurity, and are imperative to our country’s ability to maintain its position as a global leader in innovation.”

BAE Systems is a strong supporter of STEM education efforts, including For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), a nonprofit that inspires young people to be science and technology leaders by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills. During the 2012 to 2013 school year, BAE Systems, Inc. sponsored and mentored a total of 127 student teams. BAE Systems is also a supporter of organizations that promote engagement of minorities in STEM related fields, such as the National Society of Black Engineers, Women in Engineering, and the Society of Professional Hispanic Engineers.