By Jason Bouldin
Troop 45 assistant scoutmaster, Yocona Area Council
The University of Mississippi regularly attracts students from around the country and even the world, but a different kind of college experience drew students from across northeast Mississippi to the Ole Miss campus recently.
About 65 youth members of Boy Scouts of America attended a daylong Merit Badge College, sponsored by the Chicksa District of the BSA Yocona Area Council. Scouts chose from among 10 different merit badges: Astronomy, Chess, Citizenship in the Nation, Citizenship in the World, Coin Collecting, Digital Technology, Geology, Nuclear Science, Stamp Collecting and Welding.
Scouts could sign up for two classes, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. The university’s classrooms and labs, as well as the instructional expertise among its faculty, graduate students and undergraduates, made hosting the college a natural fit for the university, said Ben Pharr, director of the university’s Mississippi Center for Supercomputing Research and one of the event’s organizers.
“There are too many resources in town and on campus not to do this,” said Pharr, also assistant scoutmaster of Troop 144 in Oxford. “It makes perfect sense.”
The BSA merit badge program introduces Scouts to a wide range of knowledge and skills. More than 135 merit badges are available, including badges involving outdoor skills, sports and recreation, crafts, business, trades, citizenship and STEM fields. The program plays a major role in a Scout’s advancement.
This year, attendees came from eight of the council’s troops, including three female troops: Troop 43 in Oxford and troops 92 and 2627 from Tupelo.
Most of the classes were conducted in Bishop Hall. Digital Technology was taught in a Weir Hall computer lab, and Welding was taught at the Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence.
Scouts signed up for Welding got to use state-of-the-art tools and high-speed equipment on the CME’s simulated factory floor to gain practical experience, and they received a sound introduction to the concepts of welding.
“The University of Mississippi is proud to host the Merit Badge College for the Chicksa District,” said Noel Wilkin, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs. “As an Eagle Scout myself, I am convinced of the value that earning merit badges affords.
“As a leading educational institution, we recognize that learning on our campus demystifies college and reinforces the value of education. Additionally, Ole Miss offers scholarships for Eagle Scouts, and I hope that these participants will continue their progress within the Scouting program.”
Scouts’ registration included lunch in the Rebel Market, and they were able to explore some of campus between sessions.
“We are extremely grateful to the University of Mississippi for helping us host this Merit Badge College and for being a partner in the BSA’s mission to offer unique experiences, leadership opportunities and character development for our area youth,” said Joe Connole, the council’s senior district executive.
BSA is a national volunteer organization that focuses on character development, outdoor education, public service, community engagement and leadership.