Boy Scouts and VCU Engineering

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WCVE News interviews Daniel Metz and Eric Duvekot

VCU’s School of Engineering East Hall and Nuclear Simulator Lab were taken over recently by a different type of student – a group of Richmond-area Boy Scouts.

In pursuit of earning their Nuclear Science Merit Badge, the group of 30 young students spent the day participating in fun interactive activities; learning about the atom, radiation and atomic energy; and touring the college’s Nuclear Simulator Lab.

The Boy Scouts tested radioactive sources with Geiger counters; made three-dimensional models of an element using marshmallows; and built cloud chambers from lantern mantels coated with the naturally occurring radioactive element Thorium.

“You could see the radiation,” said Boy Scout Jacob Ivey, who earned the badge and enjoyed the event.

They weren’t your typical college students but one day they could be.

Hosted by the VCU student section of the American Nuclear Society and students from the VCU School of Engineering, the Nuclear Science Merit Badge workshop on April 27 was intended to give students a glimpse of what future studies in engineering and science can be all about.

“It was a great experience for the Boy Scouts,” said Daniel Metz, a VCU student who coordinated the merit badge program offered for the first time at the college. “Not only did they have the chance to earn an extra merit badge but we also hope it spurs interest in engineering and technology fields. Getting the boys on the college campus gives them exposure to different areas they can study.”

It made all the difference for Metz.

Metz took a field trip to a nuclear power plant in Surry, Va. while he was at Boy Scout Camp Pipisco at about the same age as the 14-year-old boys who attended the workshop that left a lasting impact.

“When I was their age, I had no idea what I wanted to study,” said the junior in VCU’s Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering. “It pointed me on a path forward of what I wanted to do.”

Metz was pursued by other colleges while in high school but selected the VCU program for its combination of mechanical engineering with a concentration in nuclear that lets graduates sell themselves in either area, as well as VCU’s “small school feel with big university research.”

VCU Eagle Scouts Work to Bring Program to Richmond Scouts

Metz coordinated the Merit Badge program with senior Eric Duvekot. Both are Eagle Scouts, the highest rank attainable in the Boy Scouting program. They were assisted by VCU Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering Professors who volunteered their time to help with experiments and give lectures: Brian Hinderliter, Ph.D., associate professor; James Miller, instructor; and Sama Bilbao y León, Ph.D., associate professor and director of Nuclear Engineering Programs and also the faculty advisor for the VCU student section of the American Nuclear Society.

Metz hopes the program also will help change the public’s perception of nuclear power and radiation so they can make better informed choices. “Radiation is completely natural,” he says.

Demand for the program was high and registration quickly filled when it was offered online to Boy Scouts in the Heart of Virginia Council. The event was free, thanks to the sponsorship by the Virginia Section of the American Nuclear Society (VA-ANS).

“We are excited that VCU’s Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering reached out to us to offer a day of instruction for the Nuclear Science Merit Badge and are thrilled that the students worked with the Scouts,” said Todd Martin, Deputy Scout Executive, Boy Scouts of America, Heart of Virginia Council.

“This is not a badge many Scouts earn because of the lack of merit badge counselors who have this kind of expertise,” he said, noting that only 68 Scouts earned the badge in all of 2012.

Bilbao y León said the students worked hard to bring the Nuclear Science Merit Badge back to Virginia where it has not been offered in recent years. Based on the success of the workshop, they plan to offer it again every spring and fall.

“All the Scouts were truly engaged in the various activities and lectures,” she says.

While this program was geared for boys, VCU also is working on programs to encourage young girls to pursue engineering careers as well.

VCU School of Engineering partners with the Council and Dominion for an engineering Explorer Post, a co-ed career interest program for high school students that meets monthly to learn about the different disciplines within the field of engineering.