ECE Students Teach Boy Scouts Electronics at Merit Badge University


April 20, 2005

Donning their uniforms and excited for the chance to come to Carnegie Mellon, over 460 eager boy scouts arrived on campus for Merit Badge University (MBU), held across two Saturdays this semester. Scouts from more than fifty troops, most from the Greater Pittsburgh Council, were trained by undergraduate students, professors, and their peers during the annual event, hosted by Alpha Phi Omega, a national co-educational service fraternity. Katherine Strausser, a sophomore in Mechanical Engineering, chaired the program; over 30 other brothers and pledges participated.

Marta DePaul, a senior in ECE and History, taught electronics with ECE junior Christopher Valarezo as the teaching assistant (TA). ECE senior Lisa Gentry instructed space exploration, erecting and launching model rockets with her pupils. Other ECE students helped out with logistics while ECE's Tech Electronics office offered access to our laboratories, so the scouts could wire circuits and solder.

"I think that MBU is a unique experience for the boys because they have resources available that they wouldn't have at a junior high or high school, as well as the opportunity to experience a college campus," said DePaul. "In some cases, this is their only chance to earn badges like electronics that require a lab setting."

Boys in sixth through tenth grade attended the electronics class for an introduction to electricity and circuit parts, complete with hands-on software activities. They absorbed new terminology through a bingo game, built circuits on breadboards, and took apart commercial electronics to learn about the parts inside. Valarezo presented circuits he designed in his ECE classes ranging from a basic voltage divider, to a light emitting diode (LED) circuit, all the way through a LC equalizer. He showed the scouts how to safety use the lab equipment and explained basic circuit theorems with DePaul.

"The kids had a fun time exploring how things work and how the inside of some things look. I think the most important gain of this activity is that the kids developed their wondering minds and thought," Valarezo reported. "I believe they can now try to wonder when they look at a device what components are in there, and how they are connected."

In addition to being exposed to applications and careers in electronics, at the of end of class, each student could demonstrate a mastery of basic electronics skills, including calculating resistor voltage, current and power; soldering circuit components; and wiring sources and components properly to make a design work.

Over twenty other sessions were offered, in which the youngsters also earned badges in computers, electricity, engineering, model design/building, and safety. Topics spanned areas as diverse as geology, law, and music.

The Kappa Chapter of Alpha Phi Omega at Carnegie Mellon sponsors MBU in honor of the national fraternity's heritage as an Eagle Scout organization. Every fall, the group plans a Girl Scout College and Interest Project (SCIP) day.

Many students look forward to sharing the tools and concepts they study in ECE with others: "I always love to tell people what I learn in school," Valarezo concluded.

ECE senior Lisa Gentry helps a scout launch his rocket for a space exploration badge.

Marta DePaul

Lisa Gentry

Christopher Valarezo

Scouts listen to a lecture on electronics.