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Even girls can get involved with Stem Scouts in the BSA!

 When you think about the Boy Scouts of America, the first thing that comes to mind is probably not a research lab.

The Boy Scouts mean camping, right? Not coding. Fitness — not physics.

Over the years, the Boy Scouts have thrived by appealing to youth's natural curiosity and love of adventure — largely in the context of the outdoors.

But what about young people who are less interested in building a fire than building a robot? What about kids who are not interested in the secrets of the forest but who are intrigued by the beauty of mathematics?

To provide more opportunities for those kids — and to bring them the values of Scouting at the same time — the Boy Scouts of America have developed STEM Scouts. It's an innovative program that focuses on the frontiers of science, technology, engineering and math. We think it's going to be great both for those kids and for our country.

STEM Scouts is open to both boys and girls in three age groups: elementary school, grades 3-5; middle school, grades 6-8; and high school, grades 9-12. And we've already seen that it excites them every bit as much as many other kids are excited by pitching a tent and steering a canoe.

That's because we've already run a pilot of the program through the Great Smoky Mountain Council of the Boy Scouts of America in Knoxville, Tenn. That pilot launched in September 2014, after market research told us that a values-based STEM program would be enthusiastically embraced by both kids and their parents. The research proved correct: More than 370 youth signed up — 85% of them new to Scouting. Attendance was better than 90% and membership continues to grow.

So now we're expanding the program to 12 more councils in communities across the country.

STEM Scouts will work closely with STEM professionals and conduct experiments that could lead to new inventions, technologies, machines and medicines, and develop ideas that change lives. Kids meet weekly after school in four-to-six-week modules that cover a variety of disciplines. They get to see how real people in real companies use hands-on experiments to change the world. They even have the opportunity to publish their work in a professionally peer-reviewed journal, all increasing their chances for college scholarships.

Today economic prospects for those in STEM fields are especially bright. As the National Science and Technology Council wrote in a report to the U.S. Congress in 2013, "The jobs of the future are STEM jobs: The demand for professionals in STEM fields is projected to outpace the supply of trained workers and professionals. Additionally, STEM competencies are increasingly required for workers both within and outside specific STEM occupations."

We also hope to be part of the solution to the disparity between the genders in their representation in STEM fields. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 57% of women participated in the workforce in 2013 and 2014. However, women represented only 46% of science professionals, 26% of computer and math professionals and 14% of engineering and architecture professionals. We're hoping to help bring these numbers into better balance.

But practical as it is, STEM Scouts is a lot more than an introduction to a potentially promising career. It also folds in Scouting's emphasis on values and character.

And it's fun. We've designed it to be fast-paced and entertaining as well as educational. Because while some kids want to score a bull's eye with a bow and arrow or race a car in the pinewood derby, others just want to know how gravity bends light or an arch holds weight.

But all of them want to be thrilled.

Wayne Brock, is the chief scout executive of Boy Scouts of America.