East Tennessee STEM Scouts learn about science in the W. Va. outdoors

MOUNT HOPE, W. Va. (WATE) – There is increasing emphasis nationwide on STEM education, the teaching of science, technology, engineering and math. Recently, the Boy Scouts of America started a co-ed STEM program. Locally, the pilot program was rolled out by our local Great Smoky Mountain Council.

When you think about Boy Scouts, the great outdoors is the first thing that comes to mind. In the mountains of West Virginia, a group of co-ed Scouts is learning about electrical, mechanical, and structural engineering while in the outdoors.

Bryan Heller, retired Navy officer and civil engineer, was teaching interested young people what he loves, science and technology. High school kids from across the country, fascinated by science, technology, engineering and math, spent a week at the Summit Bechtel reserve exploring such diverse subjects as electrical and mechanical engineering, learning about how things work and how they’re designed.


The young people are involved in the Scouts’ new co-ed STEM program.

“Today we are learning about the different water systems at the Summit and the different engineering architecture that went into creating a sustainable way of living on the Summit Bechtel Reserve,” said STEM Scout Savannah McMillan.

Known as SBR and home of the National Boy Scout Jamboree, the Summit is a place that takes Scouts to the limits of what they think they can do.

“It definitely shows the applications of what we are learning in classes. It shows us that we can learn even more by experiencing it,” said STEM Scout Joseph Keener.

At the summit, there is a nearly 800 foot long cable suspension bridge that’s become an iconic feature of the 10,600 acre site. At 200 feet high, the bridge, with all of it’s cables and arches, is a natural source of interest for tech oriented young people.


“It’s important to try to find something you are interested in. So my goal today is to introduce them to different things, whether it’s electrical or mechanical, structural, civil,” said Heller.

With a lot of challenging outdoor activities at the Summit, the STEM campers also learned about the science of these various sports.

“BMX biking. That’s something we would never get to do anywhere else. Whereas here, we were able to learn about the science behind the bikes,” said Hardin Valley High School student Amanda Neudenberger.

Values are also part of the STEM curriculum.

“Absolutely, we talk about the ethics behind engineering and science. So the scouting values of fitness, citizenship and character, those are always part of everything we do in scouting,” said Scout Volunteer Russell Smart.

The idea to create an interest in STEM seems to have worked for these kids. From rock climbing to riding the zip line, many in this co-ed group of scouts will likely go home and tell their friends not only how much fun they had, but also they learned how things work.

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