Texas Alpha Phi Omega helps scouts earn merit badges at Merit Badge University

Cameron Castilaw

The UT Alpha Rho chapter of the national Alpha Phi Omega co-ed service organization held its annual Merit Badge University event Saturday. 

Merit Badge University serves as a way to help members of Scouts BSA, formerly known Boy Scouts of America, earn merit badges. Merit badges are awards earned by members based on activities within the area of study, according to the Boy Scout Trail website.

The event provides scouts the opportunity to visit a college campus and experience a college environment first-hand, co-coordinator Samuel Gillette said. 

“It gives kids a chance to see themselves in a college classroom — a lot of times with a college professor,” said Gillette, an international relations and global studies junior. “It’s a great way to come in and see what the environment is like.”

Scouts attend classes throughout the day and receive corresponding merit badges following the event, co-coordinator Sebastian Davila said. 

The classes, led by volunteers and UT professors, help Scouts fulfill requirements necessary to earn merit badges, bilingual education sophomore Davila said. Biology senior Rachel West said the event hosts 50 merit badge classes, with serious classes including emergency preparedness and first aid, as well as more fun classes such as chess and painting. 

Gillette said scouts from anywhere in the state can register.

“We bring in students from our organization who specialize in the different badges or community leaders or different professors from around campus to teach based on whatever their expertise is,” Gillette said.

There is a list of requirements that have to be completed to earn the merit badge, urban studies junior Robyn Lee said. Reports are sent afterwards to the troop leaders, who then give the badges to the kids, Lee said.  

UT Merit Badge University was started in 2001 by then Service Vice President Tim Francis. The event initially had 47 Scouts its first year, according to the website, and had 1,179 Scouts in attendance this year, West said. The event is now the biggest Merit Badge University event in the country, Gillette said. 

Volunteers helped set up at 5 p.m. the night before and over 50 teachers and 117 volunteers helped the event run smoothly Saturday, Lee said.

Davila said he attended the event with his troop in 2011 and went multiple years afterward. 

“It was honestly an amazing experience. … It comes full circle from me participating, to me now running this event,” Davila said.