February 19, 2016

SIU to host ‘STEM University’ for Boy Scouts

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. – Knots, woodworking and nature are all traditional areas in which The Boy Scouts of America awards merit badges. But now you can add science, technology, engineering and math to that list, and Southern Illinois University Carbondale will be helping scouts from throughout the area earn those awards, too. 

Later this month, SIU will play host to its first “STEM University.” The daylong event, set for Saturday, Feb. 27, at the Neckers Building on the SIU campus and the Transportation Education Center at Southern Illinois Airport, will give scouts a chance to work on these new and traditional merit badges. STEM stands for “science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” and leaders in both K-12 and higher education are emphasizing success in those areas as a means of keeping the country competitive in the coming decades. 

Officials expect about 150 scouts from the area to attend the event at SIU. 

The Greater St. Louis Area Council Boy Scouts of America first began incorporating STEM education into its programs in 2012. In 2015, local scouts earned more than 3,900 STEM-related awards, officials there said. 

The scouts’ Nova Awards program is aimed at creating and expanding a sense of wonder. Working with an adult counselor or mentor on various modules, scouts explore the basic principles of STEM. The organization also offers a Supernova award, for those who enjoy a super challenge. 

“The Boy Scouts of America has decided to embrace STEM education as part of its basic mission,” said Gary Kinsel, professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at SIU and lead organizer of the event. “Universities such as SIU can play a vital role in this mission through events like (this) by engaging the scouts with faculty who can bring the expertise and excitement of their fields into the various workshops.” 

Kinsel said the event also provides a great opportunity to introduce grade school, middle school and high school boys, and their parents, to the SIU campus and show them the exciting STEM education opportunities it offers. 

Participants, including scouts, parents and scout leaders, will meet at both buildings first thing in the morning for opening ceremonies.  The scouts then will separate into smaller groups, each under the leadership of SIU faculty and student volunteers, who will participate in various merit badge and STEM Nova workshops.  The workshops will give the scouts opportunities to complete merit badges in astronomy, automotive maintenance, aviation, chemistry, first aid, geology, mining, photography and weather, as well as Nova workshops in each of the four STEM areas.  

Participants will enjoy a pizza lunch while some SIU departments and student groups give a presentation on STEM-related activities on campus.  Then, in the afternoon, scouts will again separate into smaller groups to complete their workshops. All participants will receive an event patch commemorating their participation in the inaugural event at SIU. 

Kinsel said STEM concepts are key to success in a world evermore reliant on technology. The university has observed growing interest among students in such fields during the last decade or so, he said, as evidenced in part by increasing enrollment in College of Science and other STEM programs on campus 

“The recognition of this fact by the Boy Scouts of America is clearly evident in their newly realized emphasis on STEM-related activities as part of their overall goal of developing youth character and leadership skills,” Kinsel said. “Jobs, careers and even the future of the country will rely in large part on how well our citizens are prepared for the technical demands of the future and STEM education is critical to this preparation.”