GRAVOIS MILLS, Mo. — In 1923, Boy Scouts earned the first woodworking merit badge by designing a project on paper and using hand tools to build it. Today, in a small workshop overlooking the Lake of the Ozarks, Scouts are using design software and digital lasers to earn that same badge.
This workshop is a part of the Great Rivers Council’s new Sinquefield Invention Lab. The facility, the first of its kind for scouting, is designed to help develop leaders and strong young people as scouting moves into the 21st century, the lab’s manager, Brendan Bagby, said.
“(We are) such a digital nation now,” Bagby said. “They’re not just learning how to use a computer; they're gaining teamwork skills that are still in those traditional values of Scouting.”
The 6,000-square-foot invention lab is home to a number of laptops, 3-D printers, laser engravers and sewing and embroidery machines, with an additional building nearby full of conventional and digital woodworking supplies. All together, it forms “a place where Scouts, students and even adults can come to make their ideas come to life,” Invention Scout Executive Thomas Yang said.
This is exactly what Life Scout Austin Toebben, 15, and Star Scout Jacob Johnson, 14, were doing as they huddled behind a pair of matching black laptops. The two were using software called CorelDRAW to create designs that would later be burned into a piece of wood by one of the lab’s Epilog Lasers.
“I think this is my favorite class that I have taken so far,” Johnson said. “I like all the technology stuff, and it's fun.”
“I really like it — to be able to know that you can design something and it is yours,” Toebben added.
Some existing programs are being folded into the invention lab. One example is an open-air blacksmith shop that had existed on the bluff where the lab now sits. So between the new lab, workshop and the blacksmith tent, Scouts are free to use whatever materials they want to bring their ideas to life.
Bradley Snyder, 16, is from Troop 707 out of Columbia, and his troop happened to be camping steps away from the lab. He has been coming to the camp every summer since he was 10. To him, the new invention lab is great.
“It is always nice to have tools around,” Snyder said. “You can always come in here asking for help, and they will let you do it.”
Last year, Snyder recalled, he was making knives in the camp’s blacksmith tent but had no way to make a handle. This year, though, when he asked for help making a handle for his railroad spike-turned-hatchet, the staff jumped on it.
The Lake of the Ozarks Scout Reservation is what many would envision a Scouts camp to be. Small clusters of tents, connected by snaking dusty trails, have troop flags that act like addresses. From time to time, groups of young Scouts pass on their way to go boating on the lake or to their next merit badge class. Traditionally, these classes are taught outside and cover skills such as fishing, rifle shooting or pioneering, which is building large structures by lashing wood together.
A hundred years ago, skills like that were especially useful for young men to have success in the world. However, the skills needed to be successful in the digitally driven world of today would never have been conceivable to Lord Robert Baden Powell when he founded the Boy Scouts in 1910.
Enter the Invention Scouts, a brainchild of professional inventor and Los Angeles Troop 400 Scoutmaster Steve Goldstein and former-troop-councilwoman-turned-Missouri-resident Jeanne Sinquefield.
The idea for Invention Scouts was conceived in 2012 when Los Angeles Boy Scout troop 400 took its annual trip to Sinquefield’s Missouri home south of Jefferson City for a week-long camping trip. On one of the hotter days, Goldstein, his son, Sam, and Sinquefield set out to solve a problem. They wanted to create a chess set that was light enough to carry on long treks but still fully functional.
“We were a backpacking troop and didn’t like what was available,” Sinquefield said.
The trio brainstormed on the porch and kept talking by phone after the Goldsteins returned to Los Angeles, where Steve and his son used the “maker space” he manages called Crash Space to produce a prototype. It is now a commercially available product called Chess 2 Go and, according to Sinquefield, has been carried for years by some Scouts hiking at the legendary Philmont Scout Ranch in northeastern New Mexico.
“From that creation of this new idea, then turning it into a product, Jeanne thought that this is a good thing for everybody to have,” Goldstein said.
Together, the two started Invention Scouts with a couple of trailers that traveled across the Great Rivers Council. It would show up at schools and Scouting events to get young people excited about inventing.
“Think about it like a taco truck,” Sinquefield said. “You open the window on the side, and we have Gladiator workbenches and Epilog Lasers and 3-D printers, electronics, sewing machines, embroidery machines. You know — all the stuff you need.”
The Lake of the Ozarks Scout Reservation has had a fledgling version of the invention lab since the summer of 2014, according to this summer's Invention Lab Director Drew Wood — or “Woody,” as he is known around camp. It was housed in a teepee-like tent, and only four merit badges were taught, much fewer than the varying badges available now depending on the week.
Then Sinquefield received a call from the Great Rivers Council asking her to help build a training center at scout reservation.
“I said, ‘I’ll build an invention lab and training center,’” Sinquefield recalled.
Bagby said it is going to help bring in new Scouts who may not have been interested in the traditional scouting offerings. “It is also going to help us retain those people," he said.
Going forward, the Great Rivers Council’s invention lab will serve as a model for other similar programs around the country. For Goldstein, the expansion of Invention Scouts is organic.
“In our minds, the idea of Invention Scouts is an invention and it will be different — and should be different — for every place it goes,” Goldstein said, “because not every area is exactly the same.”
For more information on the Sinquefield Invention Lab or the Lake of the Ozarks Scout Reservation, call reservation director Mike Dimond at 573-374-5761.
Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.