Boy Scout Merit Badge Training for All

IEEE teamed up again with the Boy Scouts of America for electricity and electronics training

6 May 2010

It’s no secret that one way to increase the number of engineers is to get students interested in engineering early on. Taking note of that, IEEE and the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) have teamed up once again to provide training in electricity and electronics at this year’s National Scout Jamboree. To be held from 26 July to 4 August at Fort A.P. Hill, in Virginia, the jamboree is expected to attract about 40 000 Boy Scouts from around the United States.

The jamboree generally is held every four years, but this year’s event was delayed a year to coincide with the BSA’s 100th anniversary. A makeshift city will be assembled on the more than 76 000 acres of the fort’s rolling hills, complete with tens of thousands of tents and dining halls, and a post office. Youngsters will spend their days in classes learning about a variety of subjects to earn merit badges. Scouts have been earning electricity and electronics merit badges—part of the IEEE program—since 1911 and 1963 respectively. To earn each badge, the boys must complete a class covering the fundamentals of electricity or electronics and perform hands-on exercises. Each class takes about four hours.

IEEE has been involved with the jamborees since 1981, providing funding and volunteers to train the Scouts. This year the IEEE Foundation awarded a grant of US $30 000, which will go toward paying for the thousands of electronics kits needed for the classes.

Scouts aren’t the only ones who can participate. Free lesson plans for the merit badge classes are available for anyone to download at

The IEEE lesson plans were developed by a group of about 100 IEEE volunteers and other technical professionals, many of whom are former Boy Scouts. The electricity merit badge pamphlet was reviewed by the IEEE Components, Packaging, and Manufacturing Technology Society when it was last revised. The volunteers, led by IEEE Senior Member Ralph W. Russell II, also teach the classes. Russell, an electrical engineer now retired from Dominion Virginia Power, in Richmond, has been active as a Scout and leader in the Boy Scouts since 1953.

“It feels great to help these kids become more technically literate,” Russell says. “It’s a passion for me.”

To earn this year’s electronics merit badge, the youngsters have to assemble a breadboard with 12 flashing LEDs. Along the way, they learn the fundamentals of electronics and hear from engineers about their careers. The Scouts also see demonstrations of various technologies, including a solar display, a miniature windmill, and a humanoid robot from the U.S. Naval Academy.

The electricity merit badge class covers the basics of circuits, power, electrical components, and safety. The Scouts receive digital multimeters to help them measure voltages and make calculations.

“Our intent is not to make this only a Scouting project,” Russell points out, “but also to apply it as a preuniversity project for girls as well as boys of all ages.”

Russell also oversees a program geared toward girls. Together with IEEE Region 3 and the Richmond Section, he launched the IEEE program in 2008 with funding from the IEEE Foundation. IEEE volunteers post engineering lesson plans on the program’s site and hold local events where girls are invited to learn about engineering and take part in hands-on activities.

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