There is an ongoing push to bring Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math into the hearts and minds of our youngest generation. As technology engulfs our daily existence, it is critical we have available an influx of viable women and men who will guide developments in STEM-related fields. The drive of this effort is to ensure talented and wise professionals will usher our culture into the next generations.
A growing number of STEM learning opportunities are available to our youth, such as Girls Who Code, Hackerspaces, and the many featured programs from the Department of Education, just to list a few. Many of these experiences are focused on girls to reduce the gender gap in related professions as well as other underrepresented populations in these fields. Other offerings encourage an expanded educational scope to include Art and Design (STEAM) as so many artistic expressions today are enabled through scientific and technological ideas. Scouting with the BSA is also tossing in a concerted effort to emphasize the value of an appreciation for STEM. It is working to foster an even broader skill set for youth who already are developing strong character, leadership, and positive values through the Scouting adventure.
An interesting historical feature of Scouting, compared to the myriad of programs available, is that STEM concepts and activities have always been an integral component of the Scouting experience. Published in 1910, the first Boy Scout Handbook included activities on how to use a watch as a compass, how to measure distances, and many other adventures involving learning about and appreciating nature, the stars, and wildlife. Today, each rank from the Kindergarten-aged Lions to the elder Eagle Scout includes specific advancement requirements featuring STEM-related components, such as exploring geology, decoding mathematical ciphers, designing and building model vehicles from scratch, and understanding alternative sources of energy.
To further drive the focus on STEM, the BSA expanded on its long-established offerings to include additional awards and organizational opportunities to explore science through Scouting. The Nova Award program was developed in 2012 for Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Venturing to clearly incorporate STEM-related learning with fun activities and adventures. Interestingly, the Nova Awards did not have to be built from the ground up: they simply expand on the current requirements already established in the Scouting handbooks. For Scouts who really want to dive deeper, an advanced award, called the Supernova, requires more extensive STEM experiences guided by an approved mentor who is a STEM professional.
Under the organizational umbrella of the BSA, a separate co-ed program piloted in 2014, called STEM Scouts, fully focuses on STEM. The program uses experiential activities and interaction with STEM professionals for elementary, middle school, and high school-aged youth. The goal is to help young people explore their curiosity about STEM fields while growing in character and skill. STEM Scouts focuses on future careers in STEM designed around a challenging, thought-provoking, and fun program.
With such a solid base in STEM topics, opportunities through Scouting could become even more interesting and broadly reaching as the BSA is just beginning its expansion to “family scouting” as a fully co-ed organization. With gender restrictions removed from all of its many programs, Scouting is positioned to evolve into one of the top-tier STEM informal educational offerings for youth in the United States. This possibility is intriguing because STEM education through Scouting could soon be identified as the most valuable approach since the Scouting experience is so holistic: there is adventure and experience to be had in nature and the lab, while simultaneously developing character, leadership, and positive cultural values. This complete approach will position youth for successful careers in any professional field to guide the country toward being the leader of a brighter technological future.