Four years ago, professionals and volunteers at Old North State Council began including science, technology, engineering and math activities in its annual calendar, starting with a merit badge college. The event now attracts more than 400 Scouts every winter.
The council expanded its STEM offerings to include Cub Scout STEM Quest in spring as well as teen-oriented STEM X in summer. The impact has been tremendous on membership growth and fundraising.
“For our council, STEM represents a sort of holy grail,” says David Carter, Old North State Council executive board member. “It’s drawing kids into Scouting. They might have no interest in sleeping on the ground, but they’ll sleep on the ground if they get to do robotics.”
In addition to growing numbers, the council’s volunteer base is multiplying. “Recruiting leaders and volunteers for events like STEM X means that we’re reaching out and meeting with community leaders, pastors and others to share Scouting,” says Mike Matzinger, a council volunteer. “But with these events, there are no uniforms required, no ‘summer camp’ language. It’s breaking the traditional mold.”
The new mold, says Matzinger, allows volunteers to reach into underserved communities and youth who might not think Scouting is for them. “STEM is our common ground,” he says. “Parents of kids who might be in a lower-income setting may not like the idea of Scouting, but they like the idea of kids pursuing higher education and job training.”
Events like STEM X help prepare teens, no matter their background, for a future in STEM — and much more. “I can teach someone how to synthesize a molecule, but I can’t teach someone how to be trustworthy. And in science, trustworthiness is a high priority. That’s why Scouting matters.”