Story by Lido Vizzutti of the Montana Council
We are told to never stare directly into the sun – and for good reason. Yet that is exactly what Scouts get to do at Merit Badge University (MBU).
Using a large telescope – perched on its three legs outside the small observatory at Carroll College in Helena, Mont. – Scouts take turns inspecting dark sun spots and roaring solar flares magnified in impressive detail. Garnering gasps and wows, this is an experience not readily available to many Scouts scattered across Montana.
That is the premise of MBU— bring together Scouts, Venturers and adults from across a rural state and provide them the opportunity to earn merit badges in a collegiate setting.
“It’s all about the advantages for the Scouts,” said Beth Wheeler, who is not only one of the event organizers, but also a Carroll College employee and Committee Chair for Troop 214. “Such a program provides resources that Scouts may not have access to in their own areas. It opens up a menu to the boys of topics they may have not even thought to consider given their location.
“Things like access to a chemistry lab and observatory are not readily available in other settings,” said Wheeler. “Getting (Scouts) to spend the day having fun on a college campus, successfully transitioning from class to class, partaking of the dining hall bounty and interacting with friendly helpful teachers will hopefully go a long way in encouraging them to consider college in their own futures.”
The idea for MBU was born, like so many inspirations, around a campfire. Troop 214 had recently held their own “Merit Badge Blitz” where boys worked all day on one of several merit badges. Carroll College President and Eagle Scout Dr. Tom Evans shared his experience with a similar event in Texas and wondered if the “Blitz” could be expanded and tailored to the Helena campus.
Now, upon completing its fourth year, MBU has grown from 150 participants in 2013 to this year’s 535 registered [Scouts] and over 150 registered adults. Course options have expanded to over 40 offerings, from Archery, Metal Work, Pioneering, Geocaching and Moviemaking; to Robotics, Chemistry, Chess and Aviation – only to name a few.
As the event has grown, so has the surrounding community support. Over the past four years, collaborating groups like Helena College, Allegra Marketing, Great West Engineering, KLJ Engineering and ExplorationWorks! have donated time, materials and classroom space.
On the first night of the event, some attendees clambered into sleeping bags in the campus gymnasium and others pitched tents on the adjacent practice football field, reconnecting with friends made at camp or from other troops.
Up with the sun on Saturday, the campus buzzed with enthusiasm as the Scouts and Venturers attended their courses taught by college students and professionals in their fields.
“Carroll College has been so kind to let us use their campus for the day,” said Sean L., 13. “I personally have taken merit badges that I normally wouldn’t do in Great Falls. Over the years I have done Architecture, Geocaching, Journalism and Citizenship in the Nation. I look forward to it every year.”
For the youth attending, it is a glimpse into what a collegiate atmosphere can be like.
“I like being at the college,” said Sean F., a 15-year-old Life Scout. “ I can see what I’ll look like when I go to (Montana State University).”
Work on Merit Badge University 5 is already underway and is scheduled for Saturday, April 1, 2017, with the overnight option on Friday, March 31, 2017.
To learn more about how Scouts can discover new career paths and unlock their potential, head to Exploring.org.
Have you attended a Merit Badge University? Share your favorite part in the comments!
Scouting Newsroom would like to thank Media Specialist Lido Vizzutti of the Montana Council for submitting this story.