Video: Inside the Vortex, the STEM Scouts mobile lab

Boys and girls won’t have to travel far and wide to participate in STEM Scouts. They can just let all the fun of STEM Scouts come to them.

I’m at the BSA’s National Annual Meeting this week, and I got to check out the Vortex, the STEM Scouts mobile lab. It’s a whole lot of STEM Scouts awesomeness on wheels. STEM Scouts, for those who don’t know, is a new program that’s expanding to include 13 councils this fall.

Paul Sharp, Assistant National Director of STEM Programs, gave me a quick tour. I put together this video, which is the first of several I’ll make from the National Annual Meeting.

During my visit at the STEM Scouts exhibit I also met 16-year-old Savannah McMillan, who showed me a cool device that makes smoke rings. Savannah is a STEM Scout herself in Tennessee.

Learn more about the STEM Scouts mobile lab here, and check out my videos after the jump.





  1. I assume this is for STEM scouts and not for Boy Scouts. Wonder how much money Boy Scouts is investing in STEM scouts? We sure put in a lot of effort into FOS this spring and I don’t remember hearing that any of it was going to STEM scouts.

    • Hi Lynn,
      This vehicle was most likely made by National. FOS money goes directly to support your local council.

      • I just noticed I’m getting a few down votes, am I wrong in this? I don’t want to be giving wrong information out. I know in our council, 100% of the funds raised in FOS go straight to the council. Please correct me if I’m wrong!

        • Andrew, you are correct. 100% of all membership fees go directly to the National BSA Council to fund their programs and support. Friends of Scouting and event income are what sustain local BSA Councils.

          Lynn, none of your FOS moneys went to this.

    • Lynn, the mobile lab was the result of a donation secured by the local council in Tennessee who created the STEM Scout program from scratch. None of your FOS money is going to STEM Scouts at the national level. In fact, none of your FOS money is going to Scouting at the national level, period. All FOS money supports local council operations.

    • If your council chooses to have STEM it will pays to do so through its Learning for Life initiative. Precisely how a council chooses to collect funds and allocate resources is decided upon by its board on which your Charter Organization Representative has a vote.

      Encourage your Charter Organization Representative to participate in council meetings so he can relay to you precisely how funds in your council would be raised for this and any other programs.

  2. It’s interesting to read all the negative comments on STEM. I noticed the same attitude from the commissioners on line. Yes sometimes the old way is the best way but if you let your program become stagnet it will die.
    STEM is not replacing your outdoor program. It can add another dimension. The STEM scout is more like an explorer scout.
    I introduced STEM to my Pack three years ago. Since the we have had 5 Webelos and 3 Bears earn a Super Nova award. That award requires the to present themselfs in front room full of adults they don’t know and talk about what they learned to get the district chairmanship signature. After that they need the council executive’s signature. That is more work than the Arrow of Light. This will better prepare them for an Eagle Board of review.
    5 of those scouts crossed over in Feb. They are start to finish Tenderfoot and have finished the Second and First class hikes already.
    Don’t be afraid of something new just because it’s new. Learn more about it and see if perhaps it may add to your program.

    • Gary not afraid of STEM and think STEM in Scouting is great but I would like to know if STEM scouting is self sustained or are funds being redirected from Boy Scouts to STEM scouts. Seems like Boys Scouts are always looking at ways to add members that are not interested in the outdoors.

      • Lynn – STEM Scouting is part of Lifelong Learning, each Council will have to decide for themselves how to or if to implement – but Scouting is on the decline more than 13% drop in the past two years. Now for Boy Scouts there are STEM Treks at Philmont, Nova and Super Nova awards for Cubs through Venturing. Some councils are Implement STEM day camps – you might want to look at Baltimore and St. Louis for best practices.

        • Our WRC camp has touched on it and our Boy Scout summer Camp program has also included STEM. I am running a STEM university program and Water Wars event for the Cubs this summer. Connected with an overnight to go along with the new cub requirements.

      • Gary – what Council are you in – do you advertise your STEM practices on your website? Hopefully, other councils can learn from those who are. It sounds like you guys may be ahead of the others.

        • Buckeye Council In Canton, Ohio
          Not sure they put much on their website. My Water Wars flyers is there linked off their calendar in August. The leaders guide for summer camp talks about what they plan there. I normally fly under the radar on what I do. Don’t always play well with the professional side of scouting.

  3. They are not negative. They are pointing out the inconsistencies in policy here.

    Such as – No smoking or apparati that does so or “Pretends” however there is a device in the article that promotes blowing smoke rings.

    It is either a program that follows BSA rules or not.

    • I think you misrepresent the article, and the policy.
      The smoke-ring device is artificial.
      Nobody is bothered if a fabricated lung .. not intended to replace any human’s … accumulates a little residue.

  4. Matt I don’t believe the scouts are smoking tobacco. It’s a machine that blows smoke rings. No different than the smoke rings from a campfire.

  5. Lynn, Hard to say on funding since most leaders don’t dig that deep into what they do with the funding at the national level. Its hard enough to know what your council is doing with their funding. How much national money really makes it to your unit. Our outdoor program in our unit is run, funded, and basically controlled within the unit. If I have a scout that would like to take STEM to the next level(I have one talking about being a Science teacher) I do like that something else is available. Closer to home on National funding would be opening up Summit for weekend camping. Last we checked that was not possible yet. Hope that has changed, There is your outdoor program.

    • STEM Scouts is funded at the local level. It was just opened up to 12 more councils, and they each had to fund their own equipment. National is responsible for developing and marketing programs. Our council does not have a lot of resources, so we are going to have to figure out how to fund raise to bring STEM Scouts to our council. Which is something I am working on. I think it is an excellent program.

  6. STEM Scouts is part of life long learning. BSA is looking for ways to bridge the shortfall of students graduating with STEM degrees, In response to Gary, for Cubs, I think having them present to a board for the SuperNova might be a bit overwhelming. This is supposed to get them excited about science. I do agree for Scouts and Ventures, it is a good idea.

    • It is a big deal but is required on the app. Our district did a great job making our Cubs welcome without a major review of what they did. Sort of a praise for a job well done. The Bear scouts had built a bridge out of Popsicle stick that spanned 2′. At the meeting they piled bricks on it to see how strong it was and what failed first. The glue did. All at the meeting enjoyed it and the young scouts are less afraid to get in front of a crowd.

      • Are you sure that a board review is required on the application? – from what I can see is you just need to submit the application – I do not see presentation to a board as a requirement. Just an affirmation that they have worked closely with their mentor.

        to Council/District Advancement Committee’s Approval
        The council/district advancement committee has reviewed this application and determined that the applicant has met all requirements for the Supernova Award and has this committee’s approval and endorsement.

        As your own Council, you can certainly implement the review process with a board, but that is not to say it is required for every council.

        I guess, I also am curious about the “group” project aspect that seems to be present with your district.

        • We know they didn’t have to present themselfs but felt if done right it would be a possitive thing. Most scout leaders at the district level seem to be “gray hairs” whose sons have aged out and enjoyed having a few Cubs at the meeting.
          On the group project requirement #6 for the Cub(wolf or Bear level)is participate in a scientific project. Our local grade school didn’t seem to offer much so I had three scouts working on it and we did a project together as a group. Our Webelos all did one individually. One of those Bears has already read the Webelos super Nova requirements and plans to start that soon.
          Our council hasn’t weighed in much on these. My pack has done about 80% of all the STEM pins earned. I think we know as much or more then they do.
          Last year the whole pack including Tigers made and raced mouse trap racers. What a great lever project.

    • Love hearing scouters talk shop!
      Bryan, can you create another Forum for STEM scouts?
      Or, Bridget, is there someplace else in the blogo-sphere where you Lab leaders talk shop?

      • I am really just someone who has been trying to figure out how to bring STEM Scouts to our council. See how I confused Learning for Life with Lifelong learning. 😉

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