March - April 2003
Learning And Sharing
By Suzannah Gilman
At the Southwest Florida Council's annual University of Scouting Arts, Scouters become better leaders by earning advanced "degrees" in leadership skills and knowledge.
On a sweltering Saturday morning in April, a group of Scouters is gathered under a sun shelter at Camp Miles in the Southwest Florida Council's Price Sanders Scout Reservation. They listen intently as Barbara Rippy, Cubmaster of Pack 217 in Fort Myers, explains the benefits of using "glow sticks" instead of candles in unit ceremonies.
The briefing on the nonflammable, chemical-powered green lights is part of Rippy's "Effective Use of Ceremonies" class, one of 64 courses offered during the council's annual University of Scouting Arts (USA), a weekend festival of learning opportunities for Scout leaders.
A matter of degrees
The event resembles an academic university in structure and content as well as in name. Event director Laurie Belle is the university's "chancellor," assisted by vice chancellors of business and finance, academics, and student affairs. There is even a board of regents.
Over three years, Scouters who take designated courses during each annual weekend can earn a "bachelor's," "master's," and "doctor's" degree in the "Scouting Arts" or "Commissioner Science."
Like many USA class instructors, Barbara Rippy has previously achieved the university's highest degree. For that reason, for three days in April at least, she is known to her students as "Dr. Barbara Rippy."
Glowing green light in hand, Dr. Rippy notes that the chemical light sticks can be used for outdoor ceremonies in dry locations or when younger children are involved.
A class member speaks up, describing his experiences using light sticks with younger children.
"We found that the Tiger Cubs aren't strong enough to 'break' the sticks and make them glow," he says. "So when our pack used them in a Tiger Cub ceremony, we activated the sticks ahead of time."
Rippy then selects class members to stage a mock ceremony, so the Scouters can better appreciate how Scouts will view such an event. After much mugging, they complete the ceremony, and the class applauds their performance.
Students and professors agree that the sharing of ideas and experiences and the easy interaction between participants and instructors are what make the weekend such a rewarding experience.
A major goal of the program, says Dan Lima, one of the USA's founders, is to provide inexperienced Scouters the opportunity to get together with veteran Scouters.
The price certainly is right. Students can earn a degree for $20, which also includes room, board, and "books" (handouts).
Lima and Bob Motl, Red Dog Maynard, and Richard (Butch) Kagy were among a group of veteran Scouters responsible for launching the University of Scouting concept in the Southwest Florida Council. In Atlanta, they had attended a "College of Commissioner Science," an academic format for commissioner training used in many councils.
The four Scouters decided their council should offer a similar intensive training event. It would be designed to augment the training provided by New Leader Essentials, Leader Specific Training, monthly roundtables, and Cub Scout leader pow wows.
"We wanted everyone to have more training available to them, no matter what their leadership position was in Scouting," says Red Dog Maynard, retired U.S. Army colonel, former USA chancellor, and current chairman of the board of regents.
The result was the University of Scouting Arts, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. The university's first year featured 13 classes and a faculty of 20, and was attended by 75 Scouters. At USA IX in 2002, the numbers had grown to 64 classes, 57 instructors, and 240 students.
Camaraderie and inspiration
The university concept is popular for several reasons. It offers Scouters a structured program in which they can advance and be rewarded with degrees and titles for each level of achievement. They also can gain a stronger sense of self-worth and a better understanding of their increasing value to the Scouting community.
Students are inspired to return each year, not only to learn and earn higher degrees, but also to share their experiences with fellow students.
And the atmosphere of camaraderie and school spirit invigorates the students, inspiring them to return home and share their enthusiasm with Scouts and other leaders.
"Coming to USA gets you all pepped up to go back to your unit," explains Barbara Rippy. "You're excited because you've learned all kinds of new things, like songs and games, how to deal with boys, how to deal with parents, and administrative details. This is my fourth year, and every year I've gone away with something new."
Scouting and school spirit is the first subject tackled, following the Friday night registration. Students are grouped in classes according to the degrees they are seeking: undergraduates (working toward a bachelor's degree in Scouting Arts), commissioners (Bachelor or Master of Commissioner Science), masters (a master's degree in Scouting Arts), postgrads (an additional level created between the master's and doctorate degrees), and the Ph.D. candidates.
Each class elects a president on Friday night, and the winners are announced on Saturday morning at the opening ceremony, which is presented as a typical college pep rally. Class presidents are in charge of maintaining class spirit and making sure their class has a skit and/or song ready to share on a moment's notice.
College references replace standard camp lingo. The dining hall becomes the "student union," the campground is "the campus," and the camp trading post is "the bookstore." Saturday night features a "bonfire" rather than a campfire.
The atmosphere is one of fun and fellowship, but there's also an attitude of respect for the importance of the weekend."It's all about the boys," says assistant Scoutmaster Barbara Schropp from Troop 119 in Fort Myers. As an assistant professor, she teaches a class on Scouts' and Scouters' religious needs. It tackles the important issue of reaching out to a diverse group of youth and adults in ways that are meaningful to them, using a nonsectarian approach.
The wide range of USA course topics is demonstrated by classes such as "Consider Your Spouse," taught by assistant professors Jeff and Sandra Ahlquist. The class deals with a leader balancing Scouting involvement and home responsibilitiesespecially when the spouse is not involved in Scouting.
"Scouting and the Single-Parent Family" is another innovative topic.
Some classes evolve from existing courses. Dr. Pete Galli, who teaches camp cooking and roasts a whole hog as an ongoing, daylong demonstration, started a cook-off following the Saturday night bonfire. The competitive event became so popular and inspired so much creativity (and great food) that it will be added as a for-credit class.
Teachers from the 'real world'
Along with having courses taught by veteran Scouters, the university takes advantage of their professors' real-world jobs. Attorney Steve White teaches "Scouting and the Law," a course on legal issues and risk management.
Registered nurse René Boosinger teaches "First-Aid Special Effects," which shows Scouters how to get theatrical in teaching first aid to youth. Students late to this class might think they have stumbled into a haunted house, judging from the bandaged bodies, fake blood, and ghastly wounds.
Other courses have been taught by accountants and clergy.
Because so many Scouters return year after year, class topics are updated, revised, and shuffled regularly. This ensures that each year's lineup will feature new topics and the latest information.
The weekend culminates with graduation on Sunday, when the Scouters clear out of their "dorm rooms" and the degrees are awarded.
The celebratory spirit of students and faculty during the awards presentation reflects how successful the weekend has been. Perhaps this success is due to the similarities between the University of Scouting Arts and Scouting's youth program. Like Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Venturers, each Scouter has set a goal, applied him- or herself to the task, and received recognition for a job well done.
Youth, it seems, aren't alone in their desire to earn new ranks and show off what they know.
Freelance writer Suzannah Gilman lives in Orlando, Fla.
March-April 2003 Table of Contents
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