“What is Exploring?” she asked.
“If you ask anybody in the organization, they’ll tell you that Exploring is the BSA’s best-kept secret,” Anderson says. Now he’s set on helping volunteers and professionals make that secret far better known through an initiative to grow Exploring — and he has a powerful ally: Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbaugh.
“Over the years, Exploring has taken a backseat to the rest of the programs,” Anderson says. “We stopped using it in measuring recruiting, and it wasn’t part of Journey to Excellence. Exploring had about 350,000 members at one point. Now it’s down to about 110,000 because it hasn’t been a priority.”
As part of the drive to re-energize Exploring, Anderson and his Exploring team are barnstorming the country to train volunteers and professionals on the A-to-Z of Exploring, starting with that basic question Anderson heard from a volunteer: What is Exploring?
Exploring, Anderson tells anyone who will listen, is a career education program for young men and women who are at least 14 (and have completed the eighth grade) or 15 years of age but not yet 21. There is also an opportunity for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders to participate in Explorer clubs. The youth get exposure to one or more of 12 different career fields.
Once he has covered the basics, Anderson explains how to start a new post, develop committees, secure funding and more. Anderson believes this intensive training will bring plenty of new blood to the movement — especially among people who appreciate this country’s need for more skilled workers.
“This is so exciting and so valuable because the workforce is hurting,” Anderson says. “You can’t open a newspaper without hearing about shortages of workers in the skilled trades as well as so many other career fields. We’ve taught our kids for so long that everybody has to go to college. But some leave college with huge debt while that plumber is making $100,000 a year.”
One of many who can testify to the value of Exploring is Deputy Sheriff Gregg Surrell of Yorba Linda, Calif. Surrell says he knew from age 3 that he wanted to be a police officer, so he joined a Law Enforcement Exploring post when he turned 14. Surrell still remembers the competitions, community events and ride-alongs with officers.
“I saw large fights, multiple officers responding,” he recalls. “I even had to testify in court as an Explorer. That sticks with you.”
Having been molded by his Exploring experience, Surrell has served as an Exploring Advisor for many years and previously served as an associate Exploring Advisor.
“I felt the program had given me so much. I wanted to contribute and encourage the future of law enforcement through the program,” he says. “These kids are in with the real experts. They learn that it’s not all taking people to jail. There’s also the community aspect — protecting the people you serve. It’s not a one-hour cop drama on TV.”
Surrell’s Yorba Linda post has about 20 Explorers. He says that some enter the program with a strong interest in police work, while others might just want some kind of community involvement.
“But many of them end up saying, ‘Gosh, I love law enforcement,’ and they become police officers,” he says.
Exploring introduces young people to more than just law enforcement. Consider Ellen Pruss, 15, of Post 320 out of LakeCross Veterinary in Huntersville, N.C.
After answering a survey about career interests during her eighth-grade year, Ellen was invited to join the Exploring program, and she jumped at the chance.
“The most valuable thing I’ve learned is seeing what happens to a pet once they take it to the back room,” she says. Before long, this animal lover was sharing the day-to-day life of a vet.
“We got to see pictures of an ultrasound, so we could see little puppies inside the mother,” Ellen says. “We also saw dental cleanup on a dog and cat.”
Ellen admits that seeing her first live surgery — a dog getting spayed — was “a little overwhelming.” But “once I got used to it, it was really cool.”
Working in a sterile room, the Explorers watched the surgery from the beginning — when the dog was sedated — until it woke up following the procedure.
“We were right next to the vet while he did it,” Ellen recalls. “Two girls handled the equipment and they got to trim the stitches after the vet tied them off. It really opened my eyes to what they do and how they do it.”
Thanks to this real-world experience through Exploring, veterinary medicine is now high on Ellen’s career-choice list.
“It’s just great to be able to see if this is the actual field I want to go into when I grow up,” she says.
Another hearty endorsement of Exploring comes from Vick Mendoza, 19, a cadet second lieutenant with the U.S. Air Force Explorers in Phoenix. Mendoza joined JROTC as a high school freshman, but his passion really took off when he signed up with Air Force Explorers.
“I knew this was something I wanted to do,” Mendoza says. “I want to make a career in the military.”
Meeting six to eight times a month at the Arizona Air National Guard 161st Air Refueling Wing, the Explorers in Mendoza’s post undergo a thorough immersion in Air Force life, including a physical fitness test, survival training, and pool and classroom training. Mendoza vividly recalls a class on the difference between Russian and Chinese surface-to-air missiles.
But this Exploring experience is more than academic. Every year, the Explorers hold a combat search-and-rescue exercise in the nearby mountains.
“Basically it’s three days out there on your own, bringing everything you need, simulating that your aircraft got shot down over enemy lines,” Mendoza says. “You’ve got to get to a certain point for extract. In the meantime, you’re being hunted down by ‘enemy forces.’ ”
On the last day of the event, the Explorers face a series of tests to determine how well they learned vital survival skills and honed their techniques.
“Without actually being in the military, this is as real as it gets,” Mendoza says. “It is challenging academically and physically. You’ve got to be prepared.”
Mendoza says he feels “a real sense of pride” wearing his uniform. “There’s a sense of responsibility,” he says. “Anyone can put on a uniform and walk around, but we have to think, talk and act like a member of the U.S. Air Force. That’s when you feel how real this training is.”
Dr. Diane Thornton, national director of Learning for Life, calls this “the perfect time” for Exploring to grow.
“We hear so much across the nation about opportunities for youth to be interns and get training,” she says. “There’s now a real emphasis from elementary to high school about career awareness. We want youth to get that hands-on experience, building relationships with adults in the workplace, so they can really understand that particular career.”
As Exploring picks up momentum, Thornton says, the program will benefit from the collaboration between volunteers and professionals.
“We have some of the best Exploring Advisors representing our career clusters, and we know we can’t be successful without our volunteers,” she says. “Working together, we’re going to expand this program as far as it can go.”
A Dozen Careers to Discover
Explorers experience real-life careers in one of 12 fields:
- Arts and Humanities
- Engineering and Technology
- Fire and Emergency Medical Services
- Health Care
- Law and Government
- Law Enforcement
- Skilled Trades
- Social Services
Learn more at exploring.org.