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SCOUTING: You’ve been described as a “former tinkerer.” Would you explain what that means? DR. BERNARD A. HARRIS JR.: That was from a PC commercial that I did a few years ago. It was for Microsoft. I guess it’s a reference to, as a kid, tinker- ing with toys. One of the things my mom remembers is the first time I took her clock apart to see what it was like on the inside. I think a number of kids have done that.

SCOUTING: Were you able to get it back together? B.H.: [Laughs] No, no. I was 6 years old! She’d always have to watch the toys after Christmas because I had to figure out how they worked.

SCOUTING: You did get interested in STEM topics at an early age. How did that happen? B.H.: My mom, who was an elemen- tary school teacher, understood the value of an education for her kids and for her family. And I got interested from some of my teachers. I had a middle-school chemistry teacher who also taught avionics on the side. I joined the Rocket Club, and we built rockets and flying saucers. Then there were mentors like our African- American family physician in San Antonio, who took me under his wing and showed me what medicine is all about.

SCOUTING: What do you think are the main obstacles now to kids getting involved in STEM like you did? B.H.: At the moment, it’s the way our school systems work. I think that we’ve kind of lost our way in terms of emphasizing how important these fields are. We’re just now realizing what the long-term impact will be if our kids don’t go into these STEM- related fields, for our workforce and for our ability to compete with the rest of the world.


Scouts have been effectively using through the years: badges and awards to encourage young people to take an interest. There are incentives for them to do it, activities in place to do it, and a curriculum for them to do it. Programs were disseminated this spring to all the councils to encourage young people to go after these awards.

‘The teachers I was most inspired by were those who could show passion for what they were teaching.’

SCOUTING:What happened? B.H.: When kids take biology and chemistry, or mathematics, they feel like they’re being forced into those courses. And then we layer required tests on top of that. It just takes the fun out of education. Another layer, too, is how many teachers may not have degrees in these related fields. They may be English teachers teach- ing science or math. The teachers I was most inspired by were those who could show passion for what they were teaching.

SCOUTING: What would help? B.H.: I don’t think we do a good job in education of connecting the dots, conveying how STEM subjects relate to real life. It’s been proven that if we do more of the interactive, hands-on kinds of things, kids can acquire this knowledge, retain it, and be able to use it.

SCOUTING: That sounds like the kind of experiences the BSA intends to encour- age with its STEM-NOVA program. B.H.: We created [this program] to use the same model that the Boy

SCOUTING: What’s cool about STEM? B.H.: I think it’s all cool! What turned me on as a kid was watching Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin land on the moon. I recognized the innova- tion, the advances in technology that it took to get there. I read books and watched television to learn about what life would be like out there, and I realized that the only way to achieve these milestones is through that type of innovation and technology.

SCOUTING: What do you say to kids who tell you, “I’m just not good at math” or “I’m a right-brain thinker”? B.H.: I say that one of the things you have to do is assess your capabilities. If math is not your forte, then that’s OK. But there is some level of mathematics that you must learn to navigate in this world. Many times people don’t realize when they use their STEM skills.

SCOUTING: Such as? B.H.: This interview, for example. We’ve got a photographer here using a digital camera. You’ve got a digital recorder that was developed by an engineer. This is part of connecting the dots.

SCOUTING: The BSA’s mission, to give youth the skills to become “Prepared. For Life,” is designed, in part, to train tomorrow’s leaders. Why are STEM skills important to this mission? B.H.: For viability, individual survival, individual prosperity, to move our community forward, and to keep our nation strong.

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