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Students help Boy Scouts earn STEM merit badges

Boy Scouts pose for a group picture after the IEEE STEM Merit Badge Fair. 

By Marissa R. Adams

San Diego, Calif., Feb. 9, 2015 -- They learned about building circuits with blinking LED lights. They learned several (programming) languages. They also earned badges. Dozen of eager Boy Scouts turned out at this year’s IEEE STEM Merit Badge Fair Saturday Jan. 31 on the UC San Diego campus to add some technical skills to their resume—and badges to their sashes.

With the help of IEEE volunteers, the young men in uniform got a chance to learn electrical engineering or computer programming concepts and earn a merit badge for their hard work.  The event was open to all scouts in the San Diego area, and 37 attended, with 21 in the programming group and 16 in the electronics group.

Those who were working on their electronics badge started the day off with a brief introduction and lecture on the basics of electricity and Ohm’s law—namely that the current through a conductor between two points is directly proportional to the potential difference across the two points. They then practiced building a simple circuit to apply their new knowledge. Later, they moved on to a more complex “flip-flop” circuit on which two LED lights flash opposite of each other when built correctly.

A Boy Scout focuses during the computer programming workshop.

“If they get the basics early, they’ll have an easier time later on with this material. It’s great to help these kids out and see them actually get excited about STEM. It’s very rewarding,” said Ryan Collins, an ECE major who volunteered in the electronics group.

Parent chaperones milled around the groups, and gave words of encouragement to all involved. Michele Jazo, a mother to one of the scouts, studied electrical engineering in college, and felt it was important for her son to attend the event.

“It’s so critical to introduce kids to STEM early on and prepare them for the future. Technology changes so quickly now, and with so many resources available, these kids are getting to learn things they never would have, 20 years ago. I think it’s great that UCSD is reaching out to the community and making it possible,” she said.

While the electronics groups sat hunched over their circuits, the programming group was busy learning new languages and how to apply them, in the basement of the Computer Science and Engineering Building. Lessons began with the Java programming language followed by Python and Scratch to give the group a basic overview of computer programming, and help the boys to see computers in a different way. Some were even surprised at how enjoyable programming could be.

A Boy Scout at work during the circuits workshop.

“I actually had a lot of fun today. I thought it was really cool to do the programming badge because I like to be on the computer. I thought was kind of confusing at first, but then I got the hang of it once we practiced and it started to be more fun,” said Ryan, a scout waiting patiently for his latest badge.

After checking off the requirements for their badges, and making sure that everyone had finished their projects, the boys ended their long day with a smiling group photo, and went home with a new appreciation of STEM.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers is a professional association focused on engineering excellence, technological innovation and inspiring the next generation of creative problem solvers. 

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Ioana Patringenaru
Jacobs School of Engineering
Phone: 858-822-0899
ipatrin@ucsd.edu

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