February 22, 2024

SIU hosts ‘STEM University’ for scouts on Saturday

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. – More than 200 Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts and adult leaders from around the area will invade Southern Illinois University Carbondale this weekend to learn more about science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The 9th annual Boy Scouts of America/SIU STEM University event begins Saturday morning at the Neckers Science Building. The Boy Scouts will hold their opening ceremony at 8:30 a.m. in Room 440 while the Cub Scouts will hold opening ceremonies at 9 a.m. in Room 240.

Scouts will then attend workshops throughout the day in Neckers, at various locations across campus, and the Glenn Poshard Transportation Education Center.

Media advisory

Reporters, photographers and news crews are welcome to cover this event. Contact Gary Kinsel at gkinsel@chem.siu.edu or 618-694-2572 for more information.

The event has continued to grow since its inaugural event in 2016 when about 150 scouts participated in various activities and workshops.  By 2018, more than 400 scouts and adult volunteers were participating in the event.

Organizers say they are excited to once again welcome scouts, their leaders and parents back to campus.

“Scouts will participate in one or two of a large number of STEM-related activities to earn merit badges and NOVA activities, most of which are led by faculty and students from SIU,” said Gary Kinsel, a professor in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Sciences, who helps lead the event along with Wesley Calvert, a professor in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences.

This year, older scouts can earn merit badges in archaeology, architecture, aviation, automotive maintenance, chemistry, chess, geology, and other subjects. Calvert is organizing a separate program for younger Cub Scouts.

Calvert said Cub Scouts and their leaders will work with a team of SIU microbiologists to learn how DNA works, including its code for building all the parts a living thing needs. Some scouts will learn about germs, infectious diseases and rocks and minerals while others will learn about fishing.

“When you think about it, understanding the life of a fish well enough to get them to bite is a lot of science,” Calvert said. “Every kid is a scientist. They play with things and try to figure them out. They explore, they experiment. In that sense, they all start young on STEM.”

Calvert said the trick is to keep them thinking that way in the face of a lot of pressure to listen, to mimic the already-known “right” answers, and thereby follow the same path as everyone else. 

“If they can know something distinctive, if they can have amazing real stuff in their hands, if they can meet people whose job is to try out new ideas, that can inspire them to keep trying out their own,” he said.