Scouts come to UI for Merit Badge University

Sunday, March 25, 2007

By Rob Daniel
Iowa City Press-Citizen

The Boy Scouts thumbed through the catalogs, looking at the pieces of equipment that people with disabilities can use.

Katie Lalla, instructor of the disability awareness class, asked the students to point out what they had found. When group member Michael Giese, 16, of Iowa City suggested the bongo board, a board used to help develop balance, 16-year-old Shawn Glogovsky of Marion said he was surprised at the cost.

"It's $74 for that," he said. "You take a PVC pipe and a board and you've got the same thing."

The disabilities awareness class was one of 18 about 1,000 Boy Scouts from Iowa and surrounding states could take Saturday at the 14th annual Merit Badge University at the University of Iowa. Hosted by the Omicron chapter of the co-ed service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega, the day offered Scouts a chance to earn merit badges in areas such as aviation, engineering and landscape architecture, said Beth Westlake, vice-president of scouting and youth services for Alpha Phi Omega.

"You come in and work on a badge all day and hopefully you earn it by the end of the day," said Westlake, 21, a UI senior in industrial engineering from Mount Prospect, Ill. "I'm hoping we have leaders for tomorrow and hopefully later members of Alpha Phi Omega."

Earning a merit badge sometimes can take months with weekly informal lessons, said Tom Coats, a Scout leader from Bettendorf who came for the first time with his 12-year-old son, Alex. The merit badge university streamlined that process, he said.

"It's nice coming here because you've got a classroom situation to learn it," he said. "You come here and get the hard ones done."

Getting a merit badge quickly appealed to Scouts like Patrick Dennis, 13, of Marion.

"It's easy," he said. "It's a one-day merit badge."

Giese, a West High student, said he liked being able to go for merit badges he normally would not have been able to get easily.

"There's an aviation badge here that I don't think too many adults can teach," he said.

Westlake said that along with the more exotic badges such as aviation and animal science, the Scouts also could learn first aid and citizenship.

"I looked through the badge book and tried to find the ones that are feasible to do in one day," she said.

The seminars attracted teachers from schools such as Michigan State University, Iowa State University, Drake University and the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.