In 2012, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) launched a pilot program called STEM Scouts, a highly innovative afterschool program combining scouting values and leadership lessons into an environment that also supports STEM, and is open to both boys and girls.
The program is still considered a pilot and is not offered at every Boy Scout council, but this past October, the program was launched into Northern New Jersey at three inner-city schools – Spencer Miller Community in Newark, Thomas Edison in Union City and Dr. Charles Defuccio in Jersey City – and attracted more than 90 boys and girls in the first phase.
“The program has been developed by professionals in the STEM field with an application towards enjoyment, learning and career development and investigation,” says Bruce Gallager, an advisor to the STEM program and a member of the Northern NJ Council’s Executive Board. “The program is fully funded through the BSA and represents a true partnership with the local schools where the afterschool programs are based.”
“What’s unique is the character and leadership development side of the program,” says David Verbraska, vice president, Pfizer and president, Northern New Jersey Council, BSA. “Yes, you get the technical skills, but you also get the soft skills that young people need [to be successful] in the economy and in their lives in general. The scouting influence will help to build their confidence, instill values, develop personal leadership skills and get them involved from a civic-minded standpoint.”
Pfizer is serving as a sponsoring organization for the program, and Verbraska says the company hopes to hire some of the program’s participants in the future.
Rebecca Fields, scout executive/CEO, Northern New Jersey Council, BSA, highlights that STEM Scouts is different from other STEM programs in that it is a professionally vetted, long-term curriculum, and carefully developed by PhD-level STEM educators.
“We start with both boys and girls in third grade, and the material and lessons get more complex as they advance up through the grades,” she says. “The program takes them all the way up to when they are a senior in high school. This is a long-term commitment to help them develop and find their passion in some area of STEM, while also helping them become a leader.”
STEM Scout students do not have to be involved in other areas of Boy Scouts in order to participate in the program. Like other Boy Scout programs, STEM Scouts welcomes volunteers and anyone who has expertise in STEM and would like to share their insight with the students.
“STEM Scouts is a unique and inspirational program offered at an influential time in the lives of young people and critical for developing the skills needed in an innovation-based economy,” Verbraska adds. “STEM Scouts is providing the rare combination of teaching new economy skills to young people in underserved areas while instilling powerful personal and civic leadership values that will pay off over a lifetime.”
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