Michael Koehler (at left) and Talbot Brooks look over the 60 Boy Scout merit badges earned by Koehler
On March 26, 2007, Geoplace.com reported: “The Boy Scouts of America, Irving, Texas, approved a proposal to add a GIS (geospatial information system) merit badge. The badge’s idea originated from a Delta State University student and received support from the Geospatial Information & Technology Association (GITA) and Redlands, Calif.-based ESRI.” GIS is any system for capturing, storing, analyzing and managing data and associated attributes which are spatially referenced to Earth.
The Delta State University student is Michael Koehler, a computer information systems major of Cleveland. According to Koehler, the idea to develop a GIS merit badge came from Talbot Brooks, Delta State’s director of Interdisciplinary Center for Geospatial Information Technology.
In late 2006, Brooks was at a meeting with GITA leadership. Talk developed informally between Brooks and others about memories of being a Boy Scout, and how good it would be for the Scouts to have a GIS Merit Badge. He remembered that Koehler, a technician in his department, was involved in scouting. Brooks called and asked Koehler if he was an Eagle Scout, and when Koehler confirmed, he recommended him for the job of developing a GIS Merit Badge.
Koehler’s roots with scouting are deep. His mother was both a pack master, the leader of various Cub Scout dens, and a den mother. When he moved to the Boy Scouts, his father was the scoutmaster for the troop. His brother is working on his Boy Scout Eagle project, and his sisters are both active with Girl Scouts. Koehler has earned over 60 merit badges during his scouting career and was inducted into the Order of the Arrow, a national honor society of the Boy Scouts.
Koehler has been working with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) with the creation of a GIS Merit Badge. His first step in the development of the new badge was to draft a three-page proposal for the badge which consisted of a general overview, along with sample criteria. The proposal was then sent to the BSA national office for review. There was a waiting period as the BSA only goes over reviews every few months, then the proposal was tabled for review at the next meeting with other new proposals that had recently arrived. The proposal spent nearly a year inching along the way to acceptance.
Koehler found that as of February 2008, the national office had officially moved beyond the approval stage and moved it up as a viable project. Now the BSA will work to develop the copy that will go in the merit badge pamphlet. BSA will probably ask GIS leaders for additional information and as the writing portion for description and requirements nears completion, the design of the badge will begin. This process could take up to a year, but thanks to Koehler, who as Brooks stated, “far and away did all the heavy lifting,” the process is well underway.
The BSA is the largest youth organization in the U.S., and offers educational and character-building programs for young men. Merit badges give scouts the opportunity to investigate about 120 different areas of knowledge and skills. Scouts can earn merit badges in the areas of interest to determine if the field might be a career or a hobby.