A Day of Learning and Discovery


Nearly 300 Boy Scouts from Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin attend Merit Badge University.

Alice Jacobsmeier’s family members told her that she had a knack for photography. So the 10-year-old from Davenport, Iowa, decided to sharpen her photography skills while also picking up a merit badge with the Boy Scouts of America.

“I was on a boat with family and friends, and I took pictures of my aunt’s friends,” said Jacobsmeier, who attended her first Merit Badge University. “And my aunt said I could make a living out of that, so that’s why I decided to come here – to learn more about photography.”

Jacobsmeier was one of 288 Boy Scouts from the region who came to Monmouth College on Saturday, March 9, to participate in Merit Badge University. The youth were members of five Boy Scout councils in Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin who worked on a merit badge in 30 subjects.

In addition to photography, topics covered by more than 100 volunteer adult leaders during the full day of learning and exploration included first aid, chess, electronics, engineering, plumbing, railroading and welding.

Other than Monmouth College, scouts attended Merit Badge University sessions at area businesses and government agencies, including WMOI-FM/WRAM-AM radio station, Warren County Public Library and United High School. Participants also held a service event to pick up trash around the campus to show appreciation for the event being held at Monmouth College.

In addition to the more than 100 volunteers, Merit Badge University wouldn’t have been a reality without the leadership of Kathy Mainz, who has led the daylong program since 2015. The program was put on hiatus for two years because of COVID-19, and Mainz said it’s been good to have held it for the third year in a row.

Mainz, who recently retired as the College’s biology lab manager, said there is a very personal reason she dedicates so much time to the annual spring event.

“I do this because of this guy right here,” she said, pointing to a picture on her smartphone of her son, Nick, who now works for the National Park Service at Zion National Park in southwestern Utah. “I was a single parent. So this was Nick’s way to connect with other kids. It’s where he learned how to speak in front of a group, how to work in a group. He grew up in Scouts.”

Eli McClure, 13, of Macomb, Illinois, has participated in the last three editions of Merit Badge University as he works toward becoming an Eagle Scout, the highest rank attainable for a Boy Scout.

“I’ve learned a lot of life skills and things like that,” said Eli, who studied first aid this year. “I’ve also learned how to work with a team to get things done. It’s a good way to connect with people.”

Check out more pictures from Merit Badge University 2024.

It was the second time at Merit Badge University for Ada Yoder, 12, of Bettendorf, Iowa. She learned about photography this year to help her work as the historian for Troop 1199.

“I bring my camera with me to different camp activities and events,” she said. “I like photography, so I decided to do that for Merit Badge because I thought it would help me and it seemed like fun.”

First-time Merit Badge University participant Kinsleigh Rogers, 11 of Bettendorf, Iowa, was also in the photography group because “not a lot of people in my family do photography, so I wanted to learn how to do it here.”

And that’s a big reason for Merit Badge University, said Simon Anderson, who led the photography group.

“I love photography,” said Anderson, who is an Eagle Scout. “You get to be creative – and that’s my favorite thing about it. I love seeing what the kids come up with.”

***Courtesy of Duane Bonifer, Monmouth College***

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