How you can be a Nova counselor

NOVA-patchIt doesn’t take a rocket scientist to be a Nova counselor.

That said, rocket scientists are certainly welcome.

By becoming a Nova counselor, you’ll introduce Scouts to the basic principles of STEM and help them discover how fun and fascinating science, technology, engineering and math can be.

You’ll help guide them as they earn the Nova awards as Cub Scouts, Webelos, Boy Scouts or Venturers.

How do you get started? For that, I turn to Richard Stone, who has two degrees in physics and earned his Ph.D. in materials science. He’s the education and training leader of BSA’s National STEM/Nova Committee.

Dr. Stone wrote the useful guest post below.

You can be a Nova counselor

Our guest blogger with the famous Pedro at the 2014 National Annual Meeting.
Our guest blogger with the famous Pedro at the 2014 National Annual Meeting.

Can you imagine being the counselor who worked with young Scout Steven Spielberg on his photography merit badge? What an impact that person made! My Scoutmaster was an engineer and my electronics merit badge counselor. He sparked my interest in science and technology. He made a big impact on my future.

You can be a Nova counselor, introducing Scouts to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) through helping them earn Nova awards. You can help them realize that successful achievement in STEM is possible and maybe leads to rewarding hobbies or professions.

As a Nova counselor, you will help Scouts work with STEM concepts and complete the activities required for the awards. It’s much like being a merit badge counselor or helping Cubs earn activity badges or belt loops. You do a bit of teaching and helping them discover the answers. You keep track of progress and help the Scout reach the next step. And of course you ensure safety and Youth Protection.

You can do it.

If you can visit an amusement park or playground and discuss the simple machines that make the rides work, you can help a Boy Scout earn the “Whoosh!” engineering Nova Award.

If you can help a Cub Scout weigh himself and calculate how much he would weigh on the moon, you have helped him earn the “1-2-3 Go!” math Nova award.

If you are a shooting sports director, robotics merit badge counselor, or baseball coach, you can extend those activities through the “Shoot!” Nova Award for Boy Scouts.

If you are comfortable with high school-level science and math, you can be a counselor. If you have baked a cake, done construction, run a race, or filled out a tax form, you have what it takes.

Testimonials from Nova counselors

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist or STEM professional to be qualified.

Counselor Kristin explains, “When adults open the Nova book and see what’s inside, they become intimidated. They worry, ‘I’m not an engineer or an astronaut. I don’t know if I can do this.’ But you don’t have to be one. Anyone can be a counselor.”

What’s Kristin’s job? She’s a professional event planner. She became active in her den and pack, saw an opportunity and became a counselor and later a Supernova mentor. She is a trainer and a roundtable commissioner and has become a cheerleader for Nova. Her advice: “You can be a counselor.”

Counselor Ruwena explained, “My husband and I are both business majors and did not have parents or mentors in the STEM fields of study. So, showing our boys something different is exciting.” She continued, “I was interested in having my boys explore science and earn the Nova award. Our pack was reorganizing and did not have a counselor, so we committed to do this with our boys and others in the pack.”

Counselor qualifications (and how many your unit needs)

Each pack and troop should have at least one counselor, possibly several for more active units. And each counselor needs help from other adults in the unit. Every unit has qualified adults who can help with activities. Ask them!

You can be a counselor if you are:

  • At least 21 years of age
  • Of good character
  • Able and willing to work with Scout-age youth
  • Comfortable with high school math and science
  • Willing to research STEM topics if you are not familiar or comfortable enough. And willing to partner with a subject-matter expert if required.
  • A registered BSA adult (completed the registration form, position code 58, no charge)
  • Current in Youth Protection Training

Will you be the Nova Counselor that plants the seeds of a Scout’s future? You are needed, and you can do it.

Related post

How to include STEM activities in your pack or troop’s summer fun

Photo: Jamboree participants watch a chemical reaction between liquid nitrogen and water. (BSA photo by Shane Noem)


  1. I’m glad someone got some information from them. I’ve sent two email to the address listed on the BSA Stem contact us, and have gone 6+ months without a reply. Trying to talk to my district about this has become a political\monetary nightmare in trying to help these scouts move into things more interesting and towards college or technical degrees.
    It seems know one has any idea about this 2+ year old program much less anyone who is a NOVA STEM counselor.

    • As the news about Nova is spread around, each Council approaches implementation based on the resources they have. Some have moved farther than others, but we’re all struggling to find our way to deliver this great program.
      The best way to make it happen is to become a counselor and deliver the program. Enjoy – it’s fun.

      • Thanks so much for the work that you do for this crucial program. The implementation bottleneck does seem to appear at the council level, though there are a few indications at a national level as well. I have resided in two Councils since the initiation of the STEM program (one of which is one of the largest in the country) and have had similar experiences to other posters in the comments section about unreturned phone calls, etc. At a national level, the last Nova News (a fantastic newsletter) was published over a year ago on the Scouting website.

        Anecdotally, I have been dumfounded by the overwhelmingly positive reaction by Scouts when the program has been explained to them. My initial expectations were that STEM would be a tough sell to boys, but our scouts at the unit and district level are constantly asking for more opportunities to work on Robotics, Programming, Digital Technology, and other related merit badges. We are actually seeing that promises of more of these types of activities are spurring the beginnings of membership growth locally.

        In short, keep us the good fight. I hope through training and support to Councils, we can overcome the lack of inertia for the program. Feel heartened that there’s an army of supportive Scouts and Scouters who wholeheartedly believe in the program and who are striving to make it work alongside you.

  2. Those of us who are already Nova Counselors and Supernova Mentors are getting a little nervous, as the Nova program hasn’t been updated yet to reflect the changes in the cub scouting program which become effective in about 10 months. Is there an expected date when the updates will be released?

    • We on the national STEM/Nova committee are as eager as you are to hear about the new program. They are wisely not sharing much until it goes final. Once that happens, the committee will begin modifying the materials. There will of course be a bit of lag time between the two events, so keep checking the website for the updated pdfs of the Nova pamphlets.

  3. STEM – The area schools started a STEM summer program this year. There were about 12 students enrolled. They were ALL scouts. There is also an Enrichment Class at the local schools hold during the regular school year. Almost all of the students are members of the BSA, GSA, or Royal Rangers. Coincidence or Not?

  4. My son, a Wolf at the time, already had shown strong STEM interests. But I still looked at the Cub Scout Nova Award Program 3 or 4 times before I finally asked him about doing it as it seemed like too much work for him. If any leaders know they have Scouts with interests related to STEM or the Nova Awards; please get involved ASAP. Do not think that it will be too hard or too much work, and don’t fret over whether your Council is prepared to help or not. I almost did not ask my son about the Nova Awards, and I now know how much of a mistake that would have been. I started out on my own working with my son on just one Nova Award thinking it would take forever. Less than a year later, he has earn all four of the Nova Awards, and our small Pack offered the Swing Nova Award as an optional summertime activity. Just today at our Pack picnic some of our Scouts worked at identifying the type of levers in use at the park. I have learned a lot and have wonderful memories of seeing my Son’s eyes light up as he describe how the battery he made works to other Scouts, Leaders, and Parents. It is amazing to see Scouts debate with their parents whether the paddles on a paddle boat are a type 1 or 1 leave, not even knowing yourself which one is correct. We hand to look that one up.

  5. I am Ruwena whom Dr. Stone mentions in the blog article. Trying to get our Cub Scout Pack to do Nova together is also a challenge but I didn’t let that stop me. I became a Nova Counselor and started Science Everywhere with our twin boys who are Bears. I’m hoping other Scouts and parents in our Pack want to do the same. I’m eager to assist them where I can.

  6. As a scout master I took two grandsons (age 15) to the NOVA/Stem camp held by the Trapper Trails Council at their Camp New Fork by the Wind River mountains. The boys had positive experiences and one of them has set his goals to achieve the Super Nova award. We will have three counselor for Nova and 1 for Supernova registered within a week. I am also going to discuss the program with out district staff. The program may not be for everyone but I like it. Roger Salzman from the national stem committee was in attendance at the the camp and and was a tremendous resource person.

    • That’s super, Stephen. How did you learn of the NOVA/Stem camp? I will have to check with our Council in Alabama to see if something like that is being offered near me. I’m a Nova Counselor and working through “Science Everywhere” right now with two Scouts. Others in our Pack are showing interest too. Hopefully, will have 2 or 3 more Scouts participating soon.

  7. Rowena, Our council gave us the info in our general camp pre-information items. You can go to TRAPPERTRAILS.ORG and click on camps then select any of the camps and you will be able to get to the info they gave us last spring.

  8. Sorry. I tried to find the info on the camp page and can’t. Maybe I’m not quite following your instructions. Can you post the exact URL to get me there? Thanks, Stephen.

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