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WPI students to host Scouting Merit Badge University.

Byline: Melissa McKeon

WORCESTER - It's not your grandfather's Scout troop

No Boy Scout uniform would be complete without its merit badges, but like everything else in the world of today's youth, the badges - and the way they are acquired - have changed.

Today's Scouts are as likely to be found gathered around a computer terminal as around a campfire, and this spring, as in the recent past, a group of college students will be helping those Scouts earn badges their grandparents never dreamed of.

It's called a Merit Badge University, and for more than 150 Scouts from the Central Massachusetts Mohegan Council, it will mean a chance to get badges in robotics, engineering, space exploration, inventing and seven other disciplines, as well as a chance to learn from college students at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

WPI junior Mike Cross is one of the leaders of the MBU and a member of Alpha Phi Omega, the service fraternity that has taken on the MBU as one of its four major service projects this year, and for several years in the past.

He's also, of course, a former Boy Scout and an Eagle Scout, and as such is enjoying the opportunity to help young Scouts earn merit badges they might otherwise have found it difficult to get.

"Most of the badges are outdoorsy," Mr. Cross said. "And when you're at camp, no one wants to be inside studying or in a classroom setting where some of these badges are earned."

At WPI, the Scouts have an opportunity to earn three out of a choice of 11 badges in two day-long sessions.

The more than 100 members of Alpha Phi Omega will be teaching the classes this Saturday and another Saturday in April. And in between, Scouts will have homework to complete to earn their badges.

But it won't be all schoolwork for them - it'll also be the fun of launching a rocket in the park or building a robot, and touring the WPI campus with students.

For Mr. Cross, being with the Scouts, who are middle and high school age, means something a little more than just helping them earn badges.

"It's interesting because we're turning them all into a bunch of future engineers," he said.

The MBU isn't a new idea. Mr. Cross, as a Boy Scout in Pittsfield, participated in a much larger MBU program at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

He recalls with satisfaction returning to visit his troop after becoming a WPI student and finding that some of the traditions he'd started for his troop as a Scout were still going strong.

"It's great because you're inspiring young kids to do things because they think it's fun," he said.

The range of badges offered at WPI's MBU reflects something else that Mr. Cross said is a benefit of Scouting.

"One cool thing about Scouting is it's always expanding. There are always new merit badges," he said. "Last year was the first year they had robotics. This obviously wasn't a merit badge when Scouting started in 1910."

Scouting will soon have a video game design badge as well, and it will be one of the badges WPI students will be able to help young Scouts earn.

Mr. Cross, a mechanical engineering major, will be handing off his responsibilities in organizing MBU after this year to younger members of Alpha Phi Omega, but he's pretty certain the tradition will continue and grow stronger.

The program is not just a boost for young Scouts but also for the students who help them get their badges and see the satisfaction the Scouts get from their accomplishments.

"They had a great time," said co-organizer Kevin Kell, a computer science major and a sophomore who helped out at last year's MBU. "They all got their badges and we got a bunch of thank you letters. People liked teaching the classes too, to see younger people get interested in something you're interested in is pretty cool."

"It's good for us, and good for them," he said.

The Merit Badge University will be held from 9 a.m. to 4:10 p.m. March 23 and April 6 at WPI. Check-in will be held from 8 to 9 a.m. March 23 at WPI's Salisbury Laboratories lounge. Cost is $18, including lunch. To learn more, email



CUTLINE: WPI students Mike Cross of Pittsfield, left, and Kevin Kell of Pembroke will lead a Merit Badge University for Boy Scouts March 23 and April 6 at WPI.
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 22, 2013
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