Boy Scouts learn new badges at 25th Merit Badge University

By Stuart Foster

(Daily Collegian/Jessica Picard)
(Daily Collegian/Jessica Picard)

The University of Massachusetts chapter of Alpha Phi Omega, a national service fraternity affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America, hosted its 25th annual Merit Badge University on Saturday.

While less than a hundred Boy Scouts attended the first Merit Badge University at UMass in 1992, by 2016 the event has grown significantly, with 475 boy scouts attending from not just Massachusetts but also New Hampshire, Vermont and New York.

Merit Badge Universities exist throughout the United States as opportunities for boy scouts to earn merit badges in fields they would otherwise be unable to fulfill the requirements of. UMass’ chapter puts on one of the largest MBU’s in the Northeast, according to co-chair Nicholas Hurney.

At the MBU held on Saturday in Herter Hall, Boy Scouts were able to earn merit badges in fields such as signs, signals and codes by learning about Morse code and semaphore flags, and automotive repair by performing an oil change on a car.

“The core foundation of Boy Scouts is advancement,” Savage said. “You advance by earning merit badges in a specific skill.”

Anusha Rameshbabu, the president of APO at UMass said that there were roughly 40 badges Boy Scouts could earn at MBU, each of which has to be taught by a licensed specialist in that field.

“This year we’ve gotten more than we have had before from outside participation,” said Rameshbabu, a senior studying biology.

Rameshbabu said her favorite merit badge taught at MBU is first aid, which uses mannequins and teaches Boy Scouts about CPR.

Craig Donais, an APO alumni advisor who started the UMass Merit Badge University in 1992, was at Herter on Saturday as well.

Donais, who taught the orienteering merit badge at the first UMass MBU, said that most of the Boy Scouts who were present that day were from Franklin and Hampshire Counties, as opposed to the varied geographic origins of the scouts who attended on Saturday.

“We were pretty active with the local Boy Scout Council, so we thought it would be great to offer this as a new event,” Donais said.

Frank Evans, an APO advisory chair who has been teaching classes at the UMass MBU since the event began, said that he decided to join APO because it was listed in the Boy Scout handbook.

Evans, a retired forensic chemist, teaches the nuclear science merit badge by educating Boy Scouts about the fundamentals of radiation.

“I use a combination of training aides, video, handouts and 3-D models to show atomic structure,” Evans said.

Evans said that the Boy Scout Council also uses the event to teach adult leader training for parents by teaching them CPR, first aid and skills such as boating and swimming.

Twenty-five years after teaching his first MBU class, Evans said he is always happy to participate in the Merit Badge University at UMass.

“It’s just something I do annually, trying to get Boy Scouts to earn badges they wouldn’t normally be able to do,” he said.

Stuart Foster can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @Stuart_C_Foster.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story quoted Savage as saying this was the largest MBU in the country. Hurney later clarified that there are several other larger MBU’s in the country, and a correction was issued to reflect that.