STEM Scouts pilot expanding to 12 more councils


STEM-Scouts-new-logoAfter successfully piloting the program in East Tennessee, the BSA’s National Executive Board approved a plan to expand the STEM Scouts pilot to 12 additional councils.

The councils, pending their board approval, are:

  • Capitol Area Council (Austin, Texas)
  • Catalina Council (Tucson, Ariz.)
  • Circle Ten Council (Dallas)
  • Connecticut Rivers Council (East Hartford, Conn.)
  • Crossroads of America Council (Indianapolis)
  • Denver Area Council
  • Garden State Council (Westampton Township, N.J.)
  • Greater St. Louis Area Council
  • Middle Tennessee Council (Nashville, Tenn.)
  • Pathway to Adventure Council (Chicago)
  • Sam Houston Area Council (Houston)
  • Samoset Council (Weston, Wis.)

The success of the East Tennessee pilot confirms the BSA’s hypothesis that young people are excited to experience STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) in a fun setting. The STEM Scouts program blends Scouting’s time-tested character-building traits with hands-on STEM modules that’ll prepare boys and girls for careers in STEM fields.

STEM Scouts are boys and girls in third through 12th grade. They’re split into three divisions:

  • Elementary school (third through fifth grade)
  • Middle school (sixth through eighth grade)
  • High school (ninth through 12th grade)

Instead of packs or troops, STEM Scouts are grouped into “laboratories,” which can be shortened to “labs.”

They meet weekly, after school, for hands-on, fun activities organized into four- to six-week modules that cover a ton of fun STEM topics. Some examples from the pilot (these are subject to change):

  • Mad About Gravity (elementary school): How does gravity work? Learn how a parachute slows down a falling egg. Create a real-life “Angry Birds” game, participate in an egg drop challenge and launch your own designed rocket.
  • Robot Race (middle school): Using Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0, design, build and program a robot that can pick up and move ping pong balls. Compete against your fellow STEM Scouts to see whose robot gets the job done fastest.
  • Forensic Science (high school): Solve a murder mystery by applying forensic science techniques. Conduct gel electrophoresis as you explore DNA and how it applies to forensic science. Investigate blood typing activities using simulated blood. Learn how to lift fingerprints and take casts of footprints.

PowerPoint PresentationApril McMillan and Trent Nichols (pictured) serve as national directors of STEM programs. On the STEM Scouts site, they shared their vision for this new BSA program. A few highlights:

The key for the entire offered curriculum is that it will be fast-paced, thought-provoking and fun. Adult volunteers and STEM professionals will have the opportunity to engage interested girls and boys with hands-on activities in the labs divided by the age divisions. Throughout the year, students will be involved in experiential activities that encourage natural curiosity and insights in STEM fields.

This new program represents a bit of a paradigm shift for parents from the traditional outdoor-oriented Scouting. The children will receive important character building and learning through field trips and weekly interactions with STEM professionals as well as learning citizenship. This up close and personal insight into how STEM skills are used in business and industry is critical to enable girls and boys to visualize themselves succeeding in STEM fields.

STEM-Scouts-22Facts about STEM Scouts

Here’s what I know about STEM Scouts so far:

  • The first STEM Scouts pilot was held in Knoxville, Oak Ridge and Clayton-Bradley STEM Academy in Blount County, Tenn. Now the pilot will expand to 12 additional BSA councils.
  • It’s for boys and girls in third through 12th grade.
  • Units are called laboratories, or labs.
  • Weekly after-school meetings cover STEM modules and include fun, hands-on activities.
  • There are no ranks or badges, but youth receive participation awards for weekly activities and achievement awards for completing Individual Learning Modules.
  • STEM Scouts will be able to publish and share their work through an online, peer-reviewed scientific journal.
  • STEM Scouts will take field trips to relevant places and have weekly interactions with STEM professionals.
  • Labs are chartered to area sponsors.
  • Labs are led by volunteers, and those volunteers do not necessarily have to be STEM professionals.
  • The cost for a year is $150, which includes lab instruction, T-shirt, a discount on a lab coat, safety goggles, lanyard and some appropriate informational materials.
  • The team behind STEM Scouts is led by April McMillan and Trent Nichols.

STEM-Scouts-10STEM Scouts website

The visually appealing STEM Scouts website is live, and you can read the STEM Scouts blog to watch how the pilot program is progressing. Don’t miss the STEM Scouts FAQs page either.

And you can keep up with STEM Scouts developments on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.

STEM-Scouts-24The future of STEM Scouts

From what I’ve seen and the success of STEM Scouts in East Tennessee so far, I have high hopes. It’ll be exciting to follow along as STEM Scouts grows from a pilot program into a an exceptional, nationwide opportunity for young people interested in STEM.

STEM Scouts in the news

Watch this news report from WBIR-TV in Knoxville, Tenn., for more about the STEM Scouts pilot.

Photos of STEM Scouts

What does STEM Scouts look like in action? Here’s a slideshow:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

All photos: Copyright STEM Scouts, by Bryan Allen at PopFizz


  1. Never heard of STEM Scouts before but, great. I’m ready for the breaking news that Lion Cubs is being released to all councils now. I’m very excited for that.

  2. Eventually, someone is going to recall that Boy Scouts, as a program, was a spontaneous, grass roots effort based on a very narrow set of ideas. Boys started their own troops because they liked BP’s idea and the local, regional, and national structures were created simply as supporters, not as program drivers or innovators. It provided an experience that could not be found anywhere else. It was (and is) entirely unique.

    Somewhere along the way, we as an institution, forgot that. We forgot that “STEM” has always been a part of the experience, it was simply not packaged that way. Now we are going to intentionally partition it (as a stand alone concept). That is counter productive.

    We need to go back and look at the era of the most explosive growth in Scouting and return to those methods.

    • This narrative is somewhat strained at best. It took a lot of central planning by Boyce, Seaton, West and many other men and women to bring the Boy Scout program to every corner of the country. This included sorting out what the nation needed at the time and how other groups (e.g. Girl Scouts, Camp Fire, etc …) related to this blossoming youth movement.

      That said, getting young people to practice science in the context of an ethical framework that is dearly held by many in our nation — an admirable goal indeed — is likely to have one notable effect: More young women, upon completing their lab work, may turn to their male counterparts and ask “When can we go camping?” and “What do I gotta do to be a First Class Scout like you?”

      • Central planning? Wow. Scouting traveled across England without anything like that. America was somewhat different not only due to BP’s vision being changed into a commercial venture but geography as well.

        • And it would have stayed there if it weren’t for an adult who was so impressed by the British youth that he got his fellow American Businessmen to replicate the model, by encouraging civic leaders, not boys, to find the organizations who would house troops.

        • Can’t reply to Q’s comment abgout Scouting staying overseas without Boyce.

          There were Scout troops in “Indian Country,” which is now Oklahoma, prior to 1910 due to British missionaries working there.

          We would have gotten Scouting eventually. Boyce just got it to us sooner.

        • My point was that Scouting didn’t require a heavy national structure or marketing to get it rolling. Boys gravitated to it because they thought it would be fun, not because they thought it would enhance their resume or help them find a job.

          Even in the States, units gave rise to councils early on, not the other way around.

          Scouting has always performed best as a grassroots organization.

    • Eventually, you’ll remember that most people didn’t have electricity in their homes during the “most explosive growth in Scouting”.

      Times are different. Scouting has been losing membership for 30 years.

      • Think about your statement phred. What have we been doing for the last 30 years? In that time (and well before), we’ve implemented multiple top down, centrally planned program expansions and they all have had very limited success. By now, we ought to know why. Air Scouting, Sea Scouting, Senior Scouting, Exploring…..and dare I say it….Venturing, Varsity, and STEM simply does not offer the same experience as Boy Scouting. Look at the numbers! And we know, through years of research, that the primary reason Cub Scouting succeeded at all is because those younger boys wanted to be, yep, Boy Scouts when they grew up!

        Boy Scouting is Scouting and the core building block of that experience is the patrol.

        We need to refocus our national support structures to facilitate a better experience at the patrol level……….patrols. Not troops, not districts, not councils, not areas or regions or national. And, not high adventure bases that only a fraction of Scouts will ever attend or jamborees that cost more than some families bring home in a month.

        EVERY Boy Scout will have a patrol experience. It’s the meat and potatoes of Scouting. And yet, for the amount of support structure we carry, precious little of it is dedicated to facilitating a great patrol experience for every boy, nationwide.

        Scoutmasters? Out of all the training we do, only one course of a few hours is dedicated to teaching them how their program segment actually runs. One. And we expect them to train their own youth leaders? That same Scoutmaster can’t even go to a Scout Shop and buy a handbook for their position right now. It’s not available and won’t be until late this year, maybe. How many Scoutmasters will take over their position year with no training and no handbook? That is institutional suicide.

        But, somehow, we have the time, effort, and resources to launch an entirely new program from scratch? This doesn’t compute.

        In the early 70’s, Scouting in America suffered huge loses and very nearly crashed because we ignored our core strengths and developed the “Improved Scouting Program” which was specifically created to keep Scouting “in tune with the times”. (Sound familiar?) Boys hated it and they left in droves. After a few years of abject failure, the National committee stowed their pride and accepted an offer of help from a retired Scouter named “Green Bar” Bill Hillcourt. When he wrote the 9th edition of the Handbook and put the “outing back in Scouting”, he said:

        “Scouting had never been in tune with the times! Even in 1908, it was idiotic to suggest that you should go out and do camping because everybody knew that the night air was bad for you—you might get malaria, for heaven’s sake. … It was exactly because [of the facts that] it was idiotic and out of tune with the times that made Scouting appealing. It goes back to the atavistic thing that is supposed to be in every human being to play Tarzan and Robinson Crusoe and so on.”

        Atavistic Scouting. That’s the answer. Bill didn’t earn his nickname by chance.

        • You are absolutely correct about all this. This STEM program sounds interesting to me, but it doesn’t sound like scouting. My only wish is that there were a true scouting program for my girls.

  3. I can see this appealing to those who are not into camping, hiking, and other outdoor activities. There’s a few boys that I can’t get to join Scouting because they don’t like the outdoors. I can see the parent appeal as well. Many may see this a way to get a step up in academics or college resumes. My son’s robotics team had to turn down students who wanted to join.

    I get the sense that STEM Scouts is more in line with the old Explorer program than Boy Scouting program. If that’s the case, you can’t look at the STEM Scout and Boy Scouts in the same way. They’re two different programs that have some overlap, but with different goals and methods.

      • They do go camping and hiking as well. Same as regular scouts you only do what interests you. Boy’s can earn their eagle with this part of scouts as well.
        It’s a wonderful program.

        • It’s not clear from their FAQ that advancement is a method in the lab:
          “STEM Scouts does not have ranks, but there will be both participation and achievement awards.”

  4. I’m an engineer and so am happy to see more emphasis on STEM, but I am not sure why BSA is investing resources into a program that does not seem to match up with any of BSA’s existing structure (awards, advancement, troops/packs/crews, etc.). Why not just build on the existing NOVA program instead?

    • Plenty of investment in the existing program. The point here is that there are literally millions of kids Scouting is not serving through the traditional program.

      • I don’t disagree that there are a lot of kids that are not being exposed to STEM. My point is that STEM is only a small part of scouts and there is an existing program (NOVA) that addresses STEM. Why not use that instead of creating something from the ground up?

        Seeing how this new program serves both elementary age girls and boys, I could understand a scenario where BSA and GSA support some organization that wants to promote STEM, but I do not see why BSA is going it alone to create a new program that does not integrate into its other programs. How is letting these same girls into a portion of the scout program and then saying to them, “we hope to see you when you turn 16 (or whatever age Venturers are) for the rest of our program.” helpful to them or BSA?

        • My daughter is in GS and there isn’t much on STEM in Daisy and Brownie programs. Not sure if GSA would jump into this with BSA since it would distract from their programs and cookie sales (which seems to be a big focus for them).

          In the article, it talks about the program being for boys and girls from 3rd to 12th grade so they won’t be forced out and be told to come back later for Ventures.

  5. Do the same membership standards (no gay adults, belief in God required) apply in STEM Scouts as in BSA’s traditional programs? Or is STEM Scouts fully inclusive, like Exploring/Learning for Life?

      • Are you sure about this? If so, that’s great! Do you have any link that shows proof of this from BSA? Religion has no place in the scientific method… no idea is sacred! (ok, go ahead and vote me down). Do you know if leaders are required to be religious?

        • As noted in the discussion somewhere below, I sent an inquiry through the contact form on the STEM Scouts website, and received this response from an official at the Great Smoky Mountain Council: “Thank you for your interest in STEM Scouts. It is a fully inclusive program like Exploring and Learning for Life.”

          I just took another look at the STEM Scout website, and based on that, I have sent another inquiry via the webpage contact form as follows:

          The “STEM Scout Aims” page of the STEM Scouts website includes the following statement under “Character”: “Each meeting begins with the Scout Oath and Law. The Lab leader’s guide explicitly includes all Scout values and suggests ways to incorporate them into meetings. In each lesson, at least one, but usually two or more, points of the Scout Law are connected to the topic studied. Leaders will discuss those topics during the meeting.” The response to the FAQ question, “What specific BSA policies and guidelines will apply to STEM Scouts?” is even more vague. So: 1. How does STEM Scouts treat “duty to God” as set out in the Scout Oath and “Reverent” as set out in the Scout Law? 2. Does the Declaration of Religious Principle apply to STEM Scouts? Are STEM Scout adults required to agree with the DRP?

  6. Camp Babcock-Hovey in the Finger Lakes region of New York has been running a “SciTek” program since 2007 that incorporates many of the STEM concepts. At first it was coed 13 years and older and ran completely separate of the Traditional Boy Scout Program. Slowly over the years it transitioned into a program area for both Boy Scout and Cub Scout Camp. It is one of our more popular programs with Merit badges in Robotics, Energy and Astronomy.

  7. Why not METS? Math has to be first to be successful in the other endeavors.

    If what Kelly Spurgeon above says is true, then the program needs to be expanded BACK into the biology/ecology/natural science fields , as our “Forescouts” did. Walking in the woods has to lead to wondering what that green leafy thing is called, why is one tree leaning out of the woods, the other growing straight up, where did that fox track lead (is that a fox track?) , and allakinda stuff lika that….
    Does Engineering include surveying? We had a CSDC that included the local Army Corps of Engineers as a pavilion/station. They were great, got the Cubs thinking about structure and strength of materials. And Flood plains!

  8. BSA has to do something before the shallow glide into oblivion runs its course, just sad to see that something is to move yet further away from actual scouting. This will not halt the liquidation of irreplaceable camps, only accelerate it.

  9. There are already robotics clubs and after school science clubs. This is BSA trying to gain membership with the flavor of the day. Just because something worked in a few places with highly dedicated personnel with money for resources does not mean it is going to be anything of a success in the real world. The current BSA STEM has been quite a flop in our council who wishes to only use it at big events and does not place any emphasis on it in the local groups. I guess if you keep throwing spit balls at the wall, something would eventually stick. Would not place a child in this program.

  10. Speaking as an engineer, I have two major concerns. First of all, STEM programs for K12 make these fields out to be completely different then they are. Every university level STEM program the the country takes in more freshmen than they can handle, but the problem STEM is sold as tinkering, building cool stuff, and solving the world’s problems. When they discover it’s about geeking out over theoretical, abstract physics equations (which I personally love), many of them realize they were duped. Some stick it through to the working world only to find this compounded with a very real enactment of Dilbert every day. Thus, over half of engineering grads leave the field in less than 3 years after graduation.

    The second big concern is that the adult leaders don’t need to know anything about STEM. Virtually 100% of the science and technology articles I see in the news are massively distorted and frequently outright false. I go to peer-reviewed journals if I want STEM news. Combined with the anecdotal evidence that nearly everybody I’ve ever met outside of STEM (high school math and science teachers included) A) know nothing about it and B) think they know lots of things which are actually completely false. Having the blind leading the blind is only going to hurt the already pathetic STEM literacy in our country.

  11. So we shouldn’t try to get kids in grade school and high school interested in STEM through fun activities because a) in real life, STEM is incredibly boring except to geeks, and b) what those kids learn will be wrong and the universities won’t be able to straighten them out. Really?

    • Yes, really. Why would you want to lie to people like that? Nothing good will come from it. It’s a complete myth that we have a shortage of people in STEM and this isn’t going to improve understanding for people outside of it. I saw many people in high school and college who got sold that they’d love to do STEM only to discover it wasn’t for them. Nearly all of them now wish they could have that time back to do things they were interested in purely for fun without any pre-professional connotations. Why not let them do whatever they think is fun and just be kids without selling them on STEM?

      • Wow. So proponents of STEM education are lying to kids? I’m sorry that you are so cynical (“a very real enactment of Dilbert every day”) and have such a low opinion of your own field that you don’t even want kids to explore the possibility that they might enjoy it.

        But even worse is that you seem to want to perpetuate the myth that STEM subjects are so arcane and difficult to understand that only true experts should ever touch them.

      • Maybe labs should require three citizenship badges, so STEM scouts get their fair dose of the mundane! 😉

        (I did notice, BTW, that the program was promoting river clean-up and Memorial Day flag posting. So, they may have the citizen-scientist thing going for them.)

  12. It might be helpful to have a reminder of what Scouting is really about… It’s about developing our youth and giving them the skills to become more productive adults and better citizens of whatever country they live in…

    For many of us in the United States, this means an outdoor program that is synonymous with “Boy Scouts”. But it also means career development with the Explorers program. It can mean seamanship with regards to Sea Scouts and a wide variety of different things with regards to Venturing. STEM is simply a new brand or sub brand within scouting.

    As an engineer, I share with many of the concerns stated hear about developing real science versus “science-lite”. I’m not one to throw around words like “crisis”, but we are in desperate need of individuals who understand and have a better understanding of science and mathematics. To the extent that this program furthers that goal, I’m not one to throw around words like “crisis”, but we are in desperate need of individuals who understand and have a better understanding of science and mathematics. To the extent that this program furthers that goal, I think we need to give this program the benefit of the doubt and any support that we can afford it.

    • Look at the last century of Scouting. We did not experience growth when we diluted the brand this way. None of the spin off segments of Scouting have achieved more success than Boy Scouting. The boys vote with their feet and all “good ideas” are subject to their vote.

      Conversely, scientists and engineers are trained in schools and the United States has more schools than we have ever had before and we have more students than we’ve ever had before. Lack of opportunity and lack of exposure is not a problem nor could Scouting ever hope to address such by handing out lab coats and offering “science lite”. We are a leadership laboratory in the school of the outdoors. STEM is in the subtext. It’s not our headline. Neil Armstrong didn’t join Scouting because he wanted to walk on the moon. He joined Scouting because he wanted to be a Boy Scout. Boy Scouting helped facilitate some of his early aviation experiences but it wasn’t the driver. He was.

      And not only that, we simply CANT afford it. Membership is spiraling as are donations………..and it’s not because boys don’t like traditional Scouting. It’s because the traditional Scouting experience (with trained leaders and a supportive charter orgs) is getting harder and harder and harder to find. And, donors are far less enthusiastic about supporting an organization that is clearly having a massive identity crisis.

      This shouldn’t be news to any of us. Just look at the JTE reporting. More than half of our troop leaders are untrained. The average age to earn Eagle is now something like 17.9 years. We are no longer “good” at simply running patrols and troops.

      We need to go back to our core.

  13. It would even be BETTER if a program of STEAM Scouts was started. STEAM = (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Math). Please do not leave “the arts” out. “The arts” would include music, drama (theater), dance, etc.

  14. Finally girls between under the age of 14 can register with the BSA! We have programs for boys ages 6 to 21, and now for girls ages 8 to 21! Let’s keep it up and open Scouting up to more youth!

  15. I’m not sure why some folks think that this is a zero-sum game. That is, where does the notion come from that any investment in STEM Scouts or other program that isn’t based on the traditional Boy Scout outdoor program necessarily takes something away from traditional Scouting. Why should it? If these kids were going to join traditional programs, they would already have done so. It isn’t like BSA has decided to cut back on recruiting youth into Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Venturing.

    I guess there may be some thought that BSA is wandering outside of its own domain into subjects that other organizations can do better. Well, there are three things about that. First, that’s why we have pilot programs — to test whether we are offering something that people want, in a way that they aren’t getting elsewhere. Second, it again assumes that by BSA entering the field, it would necessarily take away from other organizations and programs; I’m sure that there are more than enough kids to go around. Third, it is a question of what we think BSA’s mission is. Is it to offer only a traditional outdoor-based program (in which case Cub Scouts needs to be dropped)? Or is it do develop youth based on the ideals set out in the Scout Oath and Law (which, along with the Pledge of Allegiance, are to be recited at every STEM Scouts meeting)?

    • It’s just reality Dan. We have a finite number of dollars, professional staff and volunteers. Every time we launch something, we draw from those resources and those are resources that would have been allocated to traditional programs. That’s how a business works.

      We fool ourselves into thinking this cost isn’t real because, right now, our national support structures are putting very much into traditional Boy Scout units. We don’t offer much program specific training or even a new handbook to the leaders. Our advancement process is running slower than it ever has and lots of our “camping” emphasis nationally is on High Adventure and Jamborees, things that most Scouts will never get to do.

      STEM will attract some kids, sure. Will it be self sustaining long term? Based on previous experience, probably not.

      • Your premise is that if National pumped more resources into traditional programs, those programs would grow in membership overall. Since overall membership has been dropping continuously since around 1972, I’m not sure that there is a real basis for that. Rather, my observation is that strong Scouting units compete with weak Scouting units for members from a finite pool of “Scoutable” youth that is diminishing over time. That is, strong units are great, but they don’t bring in any significant number of new youth who would not otherwise be Scouts; all they do is slow the leak. As a result, investment of additional resources into the traditional programs is not offset by new resources coming in.

        With STEM Scouts, BSA is attempting to reach out to new youth outside that pool — bring Scouting to a new audience — who will not only bring new members but new money. More importantly, because STEM Scouts is fully inclusive, it can obtain support from schools and other governmental agencies, and from high-tech businesses and other organizations that do not support BSA’s traditional programs because of their restrictive membership policies,

        I am sure that STEM Scouts is nowhere close to breaking even yet, and we don’t know if it will succeed in the long run. But if it does, it will bring in a lot of money to BSA — which in turn will free up resources that can be turned to the traditional programs. Win-win. It is a gamble, but a calculated one.

        • Dan, your numbers are incorrect. Boy Scouting lost about half it’s membership between 1970 and 1980 when Green Bar Bill’s 9th Edition Handbook and the “old school” program was brought back. After ’80, Boy Scout membership stabilized at around 1 million until the early 2000’s when it began another jagged decline. I would imagine the 2014 Report to the Nation is going to bear out that the decline has steepened since the 2013 membership change. Boys simply aren’t interested in adults bickering about sexuality and they are voting with their feet. And, within this same decade, there is almost no emphasis on developing adult and youth leadership at the troop and patrol level: one class and no handbook for Scoutmasters (currently) and one unit level class on youth leadership that has a plain jane booklet for the (probably untrained) SM to use to teach from.

          My premise is this:

          1. We continue to dilute the brand of Scouting and have allowed ourselves to get suckered into a horrible discussion on human sexuality and morality that our institution has no stake in. This next annual report is going to tell us if that fiasco was as costly as the 3rd party consulting firms told us it was going to be….or more so. Our leadership has guaranteed that we replay this inane argument in a couple years on the adult side. It’s ridiculous. It really is.

          2. Troops were the logistical building block that facilitated the patrol experience for millions of boys over the past century and that is what really grew the organization. We assumed that great Scoutmasters and supportive charter orgs just grew on trees so we not only ignored their health, we sapped their donor networks and sent those funds to a central office. We are now extremely top heavy and carry huge financial burdens in terms of insurance, high adventure bases, and now, yet another pilot program. Meanwhile, less than half of our unit leaders are even basically trained and, I would imagine, far less youth leaders are basically trained (when was the last time you heard a DE tell a Scoutmaster “Hey, according to JTE, your SPL and PLs aren’t getting trained. What can I do to help with that?”)

          3. We spend a lot of advertising dollars and manpower pumping up Bechtel and whatnot. But, the overwhelming majority of Scouts will never go there or any other high adventure base. They will be doing good to make it to a local summer camp. Fewer and fewer units are offering regular, monthly troop and patrol outings. So, that means, we give the boys lots of pictures of adventures they can’t afford when we recruit them and very little in the way of actual outdoor adventure with their patrol. That’s wrong. That’s why we lose them.

          So, it’s no wonder than no new “strong units” are coming into existence. It’s no wonder we are not bringing that great unit level experience to new youth. It’s no wonder that the average Eagle is 17.9 years old when he squeaks by the deadline.

          In all honesty, piloting a STEM program on the backs of traditional units while at the same time depriving them of the very program support THEY PAID FOR is simply unacceptable.

        • Alex, I heartily agree with your point #1, and I agree that many things in the Boy Scouting program have changed for the worse over the years and could be attributed to National. At the top of my list is an unhealthy emphasis on accumulating badges, at the expense of actually learning outdoor skills. Second on my list is the absence of any real quality control for units: even when a unit actually has a good unit commissioner assigned, he or she can’t do much about a poorly-operating or failing unit other than report it up the chain to others who can’t do much about it other than designate it as “yellow” or “red.” Third on my list is the overly complicated, top heavy structure — chartered organizations, district committees, council committees, and commissioners — that is mostly irrelevant to units (where the actual youth are).

          But I don’t think fixing any of those things or any of the problems you mention would really change the equation. I think Scouting membership has dropped significantly from its height 40+ years ago not because of internal changes but because of significant societal changes over that time. Scouting fit beautifully into post-World War II “Leave It To Beaver” America. Youth and families today have many more choices about how to spend their time, our population is much more diverse, our personal technology use is vastly different, and attitudes about a wide variety of cultural elements have changed. The number of customers looking for what traditional Scouting offers is a lot smaller than it used to be. Even if all of the problems you mention were fixed, that customer base would continue to shrink.

          That might be where Scouting ought to go: A much smaller program, but absolutely great at what it does. I don’t think “smaller” is the vision that BSA has for its future.

        • 40+ years ago, many National level Scouters agreed with you. I would encourage you to research the decision making and events in BSA before and after the 1972 internal study called “Is Scouting In Tune With The Times?”

          Despite the fact that membership was peaking in 1970 (not 1950, not 1960), there was widespread concern that the program had to be revamped immediately to stay relevant with “today’s youth”. Outdoorsmanship was yanked as a core program feature, outdoor related merit badges became optional for Eagle (yes, even Camping and Swimming). For the first time, the handbook extensively discussed family dynamics, drug abuse, crime, finding your way in the inner city versus the woods, and introduced “instant recognition” (remember skill awards?). European style berets were introduced but otherwise, uniforming was mostly ignored in print. On the adult side, Wood Badge moved away from outdoor skills and troop (or pack) specific training to a more generic leadership and management curriculum that resembled something from the business world. This was collectively known as the “Improved Scouting Program”.

          It was a dismal failure. Half the Boy Scout membership left within 8 years and there was absolutely no disagreement as to why. The people who had mocked Green Bar Bill for his resistance to change in the late 60’s had to then ask him to come out of retirement and “re-introduce” the traditional outdoor program to Scouting.

          Importantly, Green Bar Bill was simply going back to a Rockwell vision of Scouting in his 1979 Handbook. In fact, that book is FULL of Rockwell’s work from the 40’s,50’s, and 60’s…………yet, that was enough to capture the imagination of MANY children in the 1980’s, at the exact same time personal electronics, video games and MTV was taking off. Isn’t that amazing? An antiquated, outdated vision of Scouting that was clearly, even blatantly, not “in tune with the times” achieved a near instantaneous direction change in the membership decline. There was actually a membership GAIN in 1981 for the first time in a decade. That was all due to Green Bar Bill Hillcourt (one of the most under appreciated Scouters in the pantheon).

          Imagine what would happen if we developed a MODERN vision of boy-led outdoorsmanship? Not summer camps with class schedules or expensive “bases” with canned itineraries. Instead, lets give boys the skills and training (using modern equipment) necessary for them to run their own backcountry experiences. Let’s teach them to take advantage of the scores of state and national parks that have very small access fees (and that the organization doesn’t have to buy, maintain or staff). Let’s teach them how to budget and plan their travel for these low cost adventures so they can sustain this lifestyle into adulthood if they want to. Let’s teach them to MAKE their own equipment to save money and develop an identity based on providing for themselves. Along the way, we will spend lots of time recruiting top notch merit badge counselors for EVERY BADGE (rather than just developing the badge itself). We will expose them to the PHILOSOPHY of American citizenship and not just the outward appearances of it. We will demand that our adult leaders have access to great training and materials that are specific and relevant to this vision and their position in the program. And, we will swear to quit selling the Eagle Scout brand as a resume bullet point or college application enhancement. Instead, we will meet the boys where they are TODAY and encourage them to achieve goals because THEY think it is important now, not because of what someone else thinks ten years down the road.

          There is a vision of modern Scouting out there. We just need to set the commercialism and platitudes aside to get to it.

        • “There was actually a membership GAIN in 1981 for the first time in a decade. That was all due to Green Bar Bill Hillcourt (one of the most under appreciated Scouters in the pantheon).”

          And then what happened?

          Membership started declining again, despite Green Bar Bill’s refreshed program.

        • Check the numbers Dan. Boy Scout membership stayed around a million from 1980 (1,064,000) til 2002 (1,010,791). We didn’t fall below 900K until 2009 and we never saw another rate of decline like 1970-80…..until now.

          Dan, if you want to argue that a 1930’s vision of Scouting wasn’t ideal in 1980, I am with you. We could have done better but Hillcourt largely worked without as much support as he should have had. However, there is no doubt that boys didn’t want drugs, sex, or their family life to be a topic of discussion within the troop. They just wanted to go camp and have fun. He knew that. That’s why they stopped leaving in droves and that is still what they expect when they sign up.

        • But again, after Hillcourt fixed the program, the numbers did not go back to anywhere near the 1970 numbers. If, as you argue, it was the program change that drove people out of Boy Scouting in the 1970s, then membership should have bounced back once the program changed back to what it was. But it didn’t. I suspect that what really caused the large drops in membership in the 1970s was . . . the 1970s. Vietnam, Watergate, gas crisis, inflation, Roe v. Wade, mandatory busing, Iran hostage crisis — traditional American institutions disgraced, traditional culture and belief systems torn to pieces, America humiliated. It is not surprising that a traditional American institution like the Boy Scouts would be a victim of this social turmoil.

          In 1997, Ellen DeGeneres came out as gay in her primetime sitcom. In 2000, the Supreme Court declared that the BSA had the right to bar gays from membership. But that didn’t matter, because more and more people, organizations, businesses, and lawmakers were supporting gay rights and looking at BSA as a pariah. Then BSA managed to offend both sides of the controversy by trying to split the baby.

          I don’t think a better use of patrols and a modern outdoor program will fix that. Why not? Because youth and their parents have so many other choices out there, so many available activities — both “live” and technological — that just let youth have fun (including outdoor adventure) and to earn awards and build their resumes without requiring them to bow to a particular belief system or discriminate against their gay friends or have their character built.

          STEM Scouts is a way for BSA to break out of the box it has put itself in, to be on the right side of a popular social movement, and to gain membership from a new pool of potential customers.

        • By the way, Alex, I am TOTALLY with you on this, and thank you so much for saying it:

          “Imagine what would happen if we developed a MODERN vision of boy-led outdoorsmanship? Not summer camps with class schedules or expensive “bases” with canned itineraries. Instead, lets give boys the skills and training (using modern equipment) necessary for them to run their own backcountry experiences. Let’s teach them to take advantage of the scores of state and national parks that have very small access fees (and that the organization doesn’t have to buy, maintain or staff). Let’s teach them how to budget and plan their travel for these low cost adventures so they can sustain this lifestyle into adulthood if they want to. Let’s teach them to MAKE their own equipment to save money and develop an identity based on providing for themselves. Along the way, we will spend lots of time recruiting top notch merit badge counselors for EVERY BADGE (rather than just developing the badge itself). We will expose them to the PHILOSOPHY of American citizenship and not just the outward appearances of it. We will demand that our adult leaders have access to great training and materials that are specific and relevant to this vision and their position in the program. And, we will swear to quit selling the Eagle Scout brand as a resume bullet point or college application enhancement. Instead, we will meet the boys where they are TODAY and encourage them to achieve goals because THEY think it is important now, not because of what someone else thinks ten years down the road.”

          It is just that personally, I don’t think a fabulous program like what you describe will cause significant membership _increases_ among new target audiences. But _retention_ would skyrocket, and we’d have a program we could absolutely be proud of and that would make a difference in America and the world.

        • >Dan said: “But again, after Hillcourt fixed the program, the numbers did not go back to anywhere near the 1970 numbers. “Dan said: ” . . . the 1970s.”Dan said: “BSA tried to split the baby”Dan said: “I don’t think a better use of patrols and a modern outdoor program will fix that.”< I can't argue against what basically amounts to a personally held belief in the face of overwhelming statistical proof and millions of pieces of feedback. Don't worry, though. I think the vast majority of the national office agrees with you. It's no accident that the institutional memory of William Hillcourt has been allowed to fade.

          I am so weary of the vilification of traditional Scouting. We have replayed this record so…..many…..times with various spin offs. It is not nearly as bad as the open vilification of millions of families and children who had earnestly held religious beliefs and of the charter orgs that did so much to support our movement over the past century.

          There are no other words for it: institutional suicide. BTW, unlike the State Department. I didn't pay for any of the thumbs up on my comments. Pardon the pun – but, this isn't rocket science.

        • My view of the membership standards controversy — a view which I communicated to National and stated in this blog at the time — is that BSA had made a contract with the membership and chartered organizations to maintain a particular membership policy. THEY SHOULD NOT HAVE BROKEN FAITH WITH THEIR MEMBERS AND THE CHURCHES. What they should have done was what they did with Exploring and now with STEM Scouts — put a separate, all-inclusive Scouting program into Learning for Life or similar subsidiary, and let it compete with the existing program.

          Personally, I would have opted to go to the all-inclusive program. But that doesn’t change my view that BSA made a bad call and the members and chartered organizations that supported that policy were treated unfairly.

          But that’s just a personally held belief.

        • My last comment was heavily redacted through my own misuse of punctuation in trying to respond to your specific ideas. If I could go back and edit it, I would as this is a productive conversation. It came out garbled and nonsensical – sorry for that.

          Suffice to say that I think spin offs, especially ones that specifically eschew the BSA membership standards and have an entirely different focus and approach, simply don’t need to be under the BSA corporate umbrella. There are already stories out there about LFL donations being used to pay BSA employees (“Gasp! Those bigots pulled a fast one!” No, really that is exactly what they are saying.)

          We can’t hold dual organizational personalities. It doesn’t work. It’s like trying to play tennis with two balls. To the rest of the world, we are going to be mean, old, bigots in khaki or we are going to be something else. We can’t do both. That is an immature expectation that is not based on realistic thinking.

          Considering that there are already many after-school STEM organizations around the country, there may be room in that market for yet another. However, make no mistake, slapping the word “Scouts” on a STEM program is the very definition of brand dilution. We are leveraging the word “Scouts” along with our resources in the hopes of making this thing viable. There is a cost associated with that – a big one. Your same reasoning behind the membership debacle should apply here: this is not what the current membership, the current support structures, the CO’s signed on for….at all. It is disingenuous to use that organization, the brand that they built, and the support network that they developed to assume all the risk of getting this one off the ground. It might ultimately be viable but that risk should not be placed on the back of traditional Scouting.

        • Alex, I agree that this has been a good conversation, in that we have been (mostly) talking to each other rather than past each other. And this is, literally — and I mean that literally — an existential discussion about the long-term survival of the Boy Scouts of America. I believe fervently in the traditional, patrol-based, outdoor-centric Boy Scouting program, and have already stated my support for your vision of Scouting through modern outdoorsmanship. THERE WILL ALWAYS BE A PLACE FOR THAT. No substantive changes are needed — or will be needed — to keep that type of program “relevant.”

          The issue, as I see it, is what the customer base for _that_ program will look like — both in size and demographics — in 10 years, 20 years, 50 years; and whether the BSA corporate entity that worries about things like money and membership numbers will be content to just put on _that_ classic Scouting program for that customer base.

          And whether BSA _should_ be content to just put on that classic Scouting program for that customer base.

          Again, thanks for the discussion.

        • (Agreed on all points about the discussion. Too often, Scouters with opposing ideas get emotionally compromised and pick up their ball and go home instead of figuring it out. Thanks for not doing that.)

          Two things. First, I think “atavistic” Scouting is viable long term. Smaller? Maybe. But, if we looked at the sales of outdoor equipment industry and the usage numbers in wilderness areas nationwide, it certainly looks like plenty of people are going outside for weekend and longer trips. I am guessing boys will always gravitate towards a program that gives them some autonomy to do that. Over programming and lack of leader specific training is actively hurting this segment.

          Second, I think we are carrying WAY too much infrastructure and payroll as discussed above. Almost none of the money we are collecting nationally ends up improving the experience of each individual Scout. Instead, it just feeds the machine and subsidizes experiences that only a select few Scouts will enjoy. This long term need for upward cash flow (which membership really doesn’t control) simply encourages risk taking as you stated. We have an extensive history with risky program expansion to service very small markets. Certainly you would agree that most of them have never “worked” in the way you described (able to generate a profit, sustained growth and support the organization that spawned it).

          When you run a business, your chief concern becomes cash flow, market penetration, and profitability to ownership.

          When you run a children’s non profit, you make sure all of your current children get max benefit first and THEN you worry about expansion. You never overextend yourself financially or allow overhead to become a cause unto itself. Expansion is always built on your original raison d’être – the concept that brought you membership in the first place. That is what success looks like.

          Honestly, I have trouble raising money with a straight face anymore knowing that we are floating dozens of 6 figure incomes and a couple 7 figure ones while at the same time intentionally working around the membership standards to please other people.

        • Yes, the outdoor industry is booming. But Scouting adds additional dimensions, like Ideals and Leadership and Advancement and Uniforms, which may not appeal to youth who otherwise want to camping and hiking and have outdoor adventures.

          I think I discussed earlier the top-heavy nature of the district structure and the disconnect between that structure and the units. On the National level, well, someone has to produce the program materials, training, etc. Does that have to come with a large bureaucracy?

          Sea Scouts is small, and always has been since it was started in 1912. And from the yarns of Sea Scout veterans, has faced much adversity because of its size. But despite its small size and unique program, it survives — and like Boy Scouting, the substance of its program is little changed. Then there is Venturing, formed in 1998 from the split of Exploring (because of BSA’s membership standards) into career Exploring under Learning for Life, and Venturing. Within five years, it had more than 50 percent growth and around 280,000 members. Not bad. Today, Venturing is far below its original membership numbers. But is that because it was poorly designed from the beginning to serve a market outside the BSA’s core audience and core program? Or because at the height of its success BSA National botched its support for what had been a thriving program? Or because the participants — quite intentionally — significantly departed from the original program design in favor of what turned out to be an unsustainable model? The classroom Learning for Life program had more than 418,000 participants in 2013, according to its annual report. And then there is Cub Scouting, which did pretty well until recently. I think BSA’s efforts to branch out into non-core areas have been uneven, but I can’t say that they have been consistently unsuccessful.

          You have made a very good point about a nonprofit for youth sticking to its “original raison d’être – the concept that brought [it] membership in the first place.” BSA’s Congressional Charter from 1916 — a law that is still on the books — states: “The purposes of the corporation are to promote, through organization, and cooperation with other agencies, the ability of boys to do things for themselves and others, to train them in scoutcraft, and to teach them patriotism, courage, self-reliance, and kindred virtues, using the methods that were in common use by boy scouts on June 15, 1916.” Have we gone beyond our charter by allowing girls to be members? Or are we okay having girls in the program as long as we are still working with boys? What is “scoutcraft”? Does it include building robots? If we offer Boy Scout merit badges in things like Nature, Farm Mechanics, Pioneering, and Astronomy, is it okay to offer Environmental Science, Digital Technology, Engineering, and Space Exploration? If it is okay to teach those subjects in Boy Scouts, is it okay to teach them in another Scouting program? What were the methods in common use by Boy Scouts in 1916? If we no longer teach boys how to stop a runaway horse (an early advancement requirement), are we violating our charter? The point is, who gets to decide what the organization’s original purpose includes or does not include?

  16. Hoping to add some clarity here:

    1. The STEM Scouts program is part of the Learning for Life program. The same division of BSA that also brings you Explorer Posts and Explorer Clubs. All of those programs are aimed toward exploring career choices. They don’t do much “advancement” in the traditional BSA sense (no uniforms or badges, other than what you would do “on the job” (ie, bunkers and helmet for firefighters)) Also, the same L-f-L membership standards apply (ie, no groups excluded).

    2. The Nova Award program is not at all connected with STEM Scouts, other than perhaps leveraging similar projects and activities. The Nova Award program is an activity that draws upon advancement and extends that into deeper or wider activity to bring out the STEMiness of the topics.

    3. I think the Nova Award program is to STEM Scouts as Venture Patrols in a Boy Scout Troop is to a Venturing Crew. They are both providing deeper experiences for those who wish them.

    4. My Explorer Post is focused on technology and engineering. The participants are very smart and accomplished and driven. They will be successful in their chosen fields. However, most of them are just not campers. We talk a good game about providing opportunities in Scouting for “under-served populations”. What about serving the non-camper minority in Scouting? I am all for it. (But I do miss the camping.)

    5. I am excited to see this program develop. I know little about it, and hope to hear more soon. My council was considering joining the pilot project, but ultimately declined due to resource issues. Hopefully we will take advantage of the next trial.

    — Richard Stone
    STEM/Nova Committee Training and Education Chair

  17. Bryan Wendall – are the comments below correct in stating that STEM Scouts will not be subject to the youth and adult membership standards of BSA? That FAQ seems to contradict that.

  18. I wonder whether this program will allow gay adult leaders? What about atheist youth and adults? Given that only about a third of scientists said they believed in God in a recent survey, compared to 83 percent of the general public surveyed, the BSA’s membership policies certainly seem like they’ll be an issue with this program.

    • Yesterday I submitted that question through the Contact form on the STEM Scouts website, This was the response I received from an official at the Great Smoky Mountain Council:

      “Thank you for your interest in STEM Scouts. It is a fully inclusive program like Exploring and Learning for Life.”

      And of course, it had to be that way. After the recent (and ongoing) membership standards controversy, rapidly changing social attitudes, and legal acceptance of equality for gays, BSA would not be foolish enough to start a new program that discriminates against anyone.

      • And yes, it is rather annoying that the STEM Scouts FAQ doesn’t say anything about this, and that Bryan doesn’t mention it in the article. After all we’ve been through on this issue, they should just put the facts out there instead of trying to hide the ball and not offend anyone.

      • Dan, what you call discrimination some of us call traditional morality; as did BSA in the Dale case:

        “The Boy Scouts asserts that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the values embodied in the Scout Oath and Law, particularly with the values represented by the terms ‘morally straight’ and ‘clean.’”

        “The Boy Scouts asserts that it ‘teach[es] that homosexual conduct is not morally straight,’ … and that it does ‘not want to promote homosexual conduct as a legitimate form of behavior….’”

        Yet BSA was promoting (or at least permitting) homosexuality in its Learning for Life program all those years that it was fighting to keep homosexuality out of the traditional Scouting program. I personally felt betrayed when one of our council’s higher ups told me about the double standard. I considered pulling my sons out of BSA and leaving but I determined the best way to fight the homosexual agenda of BSA was not to flee but to stay and continually remind the higher ups that they caved on one of the fundamental values of Scouting. There are plenty of people like me who are still members of BSA and we’re not going away, no matter how badly BSA may wish we would go.

        None of my children will enroll in STEM “Scouts”.

        • Understood, and I respect that. As I said above, in my view BSA had made a contract with the membership and chartered organizations to maintain a particular membership policy. BSA breached that contract by forcing a change to the anti-gay policy instead of finding another way.

          And yes, it is certainly arguable that they breached it as far back as 1998 (two years before the Dale decision) when they put Exploring under Learning for Life, but continued to operate fully-inclusive Exploring through the same BSA council mechanisms that operated the traditional programs with the no-homosexual and belief-in-God-required membership policies.

          But then again, I also think it is arguable that BSA, having been chartered as a patriotic organization by Congress through the enactment of a federal law that is still on the books, had the moral obligation to hold itself out as a patriotic American public institution rather than a private club. As a result, BSA should have felt itself duty-bound (even if not legally bound) to follow the same anti-discrimination laws as other public institutions.

          So yes, I think BSA has mishandled this whole thing from the start.

        • I rarely agree with you but in this case i must concur; BSA mishandled the issue from the start.

          Somewhat off-topic but still relevant: Recently Greater New York Councils hired an openly homosexual adult leader. There was no comment from National. I wondered why, then I reread the article in USA Today and learned that the Greater New York Councils “… sent [his] application to the national organization before they hired him and received no objection.” Yeah. I think we all know where this is going. STEM “Scouts” is just another step in that direction. I just hope it takes long enough that my boys can finish the program and move on.

        • Here’s why there has been “no objection” by BSA to this young man’s application:

          a) If BSA refuses to process the application, the young man’s very famous attorney, David Boies, will file suit challenging the membership policy. Given BSA’s changing language re: the reasoning behind the membership policy since Dale, this is a long, expensive, and no-win legal battle for Scouting.

          b) If BSA accepts the application, it renders the adult membership policy null and void.

          The lack of response from the national office is that same thing you do when your opponent puts you in checkmate: you buy time trying to go through every possible move you could make before you eventually there are no moves left.

        • “I just hope it takes long enough that my boys can finish the program and move on.”

          Respectfully, move on to what? A world where there are no gay teachers, coaches, neighbors, co-workers, lawmakers? That world doesn’t exist. Your boys will eventually work with and live by openly gay individuals.

          BSA should have no stake in this culture war. But, to Dan’s point, by establishing and then retaining (in part) a policy excluding gays, it established/es itself as a front in the war.

          Eliminating this policy would not mean BSA is “endorsing” any outcome… it would simply remove an incredibly distracting issue that is irrelevant to the goals and aims of Scouting.

  19. I find myself wondering if this is not a case of going back the the effort to be all things to all young-people, much like what was attempted in the 70’s and failed? It doesn’t say a thing about who is going to run this program either.

    I’ll wait and see, but have serious doubts on this one. As a COR, I’ll wait to see before I get excited.

    • “Labs are chartered to area sponsors.

      Labs are led by volunteers, and those volunteers do not necessarily have to be STEM professionals.”

  20. I am a District Committee Chairman. I have the following questions:
    1. Who charters the Stem Scout units, i.e., who is responsible for overseeing the collection of funds and the disbursements for expenses?
    2. The $150 fee is hard for some to absorb, so what are the fundraising alternatives proposed to help the participants pay their way?
    3. What are the proposed oversight responsibilities for the District Committee and District Commissioner?

    • 2.The $150 sounds stiff but for 50 weeks comes out to $3.00 weekly dues, which is not any more than the ten cent troop dues I had when the Minimum Wage was less than a dollar an hour (75 cents I recall being paid in the 1950s).
      But, this $3.00 a week is not for the local “lab” expense, but rather flies off in the direction of Irvine Texas, ….
      And, the “lab” is left to pay its expenses (science projects ain’t cheap) and expenses on top of the $3.00s. Plus any Council and District fund raising (SOS, etc.) sooner-or-later .
      Also, note that lab coats, safety glasses, lanyards … will be available (from China? with usual BSA markup?).
      3. Sound like the “labs” will be with the school-career program$ and not the traditional Scout District and Commissioner system.

      • Thanks for your comment, Old Scout, I also look forward hearing from someone who has been involved in the trial and set-up of the new program.

  21. 1) The 20th century is over.
    2) Continuing to hold on to ideals that are almost 100 years old is problematic at best.
    3) My son is a different type of learner who excelled in Cubs in a progressive, inclusive environment. We moved for work to a more “traditional” area and he suffered. The pack’s lack of leadership and unwillingness to see differences in kids drove my son away. Four and a half years lost to him and he was shown that bullies win. He held on for his Arrow of Light but does not want to go on.
    4) New programs like this one are absolutly needed. Stale, almost dogmatic programs with narrowminded leadership will only create a negative environment for the boys that is inconsistent with the rest of the world (imperfect as it is) around them.

  22. So people are saying that STEM Scouts is part of Learning for Life. But I can’t find anything official from the BSA that says that. The official STEM Scout website doesn’t say. Can anyone post a link to an official statement about that?

  23. After a year working with a STEM Scout Lab, I can tell you, this is a wonderful program and the scouts get a lot of fun out of performing the lab assignments. We stress the Scout Oath and Law in every meeting. We improve teamwork and scientific methods with each meeting. We have had close to 100% at every meeting the entire year.

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