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Growing Up in the Great Outdoors


Boy scouts sing

Written by Diana Mazzella
Photographs provided by Boy Scouts of America

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It was breakfast time and Ryan Campione was seated with a group of people he didn’t know. “We were talking and listening to them talk and hearing about their culture,” he said. “I felt like for a moment I was in Brazil. And I’m like ‘Wait, no, I’m in West Virginia.’"

Campione, BS ’14, Industrial Engineering, a former Student Body President, was at the Boy Scouts of America’s Summit Bechtel Reserve in southern West Virginia this summer for scouting’s 24th World Jamboree.

More than 45,000 people from 145 countries had flocked to the reserve, the fourth of BSA’s High Adventure Camps. Some had never been to the United States and while they may never have heard of West Virginia University, WVU had been involved from the beginning with the reserve through a partnership with BSA that is putting the University in a unique position within youth education.

Campione became an Eagle Scout in Morgantown, W.Va., and at the jamboree as a WVU employee, he was working the zipline education station, helping scouts to calculate the speed that they were likely to travel before they took the plunge at the reserve’s 3,100-foot canopy tour.

WVU professors, staff and students were there, providing medical care in the health tent and teaching science behind archery, mountain biking, skateboarding and more. And WVU stays with scouting long after the jamboree is over.

WVU President E. Gordon Gee was in Rome when he met some Italian scouts who had just attended the jamboree.

“The first they thing said was they love West Virginia,” Gee said. “They loved what we're doing here. So I think without a doubt it allows us to tell our story.”

When Gee arrived at WVU in 2014, he saw the reserve as an opportunity to benefit scouting – Gee himself is an Eagle Scout – West Virginia and youth across the world. One important aspect that both the scouts and WVU share is pushing forward character education, he says.

Boy Scouts on highline

Zipline fun during pre-Jamboree setup for the 24th World Scout Jamboree. (Photo by Mary Oakes)

“We live in a tumultuous world, and we need to make sure that our young people have a sense of purpose and values,” Gee said. “Not everyone has to have the same purpose and values, but the only thing that we really carry in life is our purpose and our ability to be able to do good deeds and good work, and we need to encourage that.”

For the jamboree, WVU created a set of seven patches that were in high demand as they ran out days before the two-week event was over.

“[Patch sets are] super common at events in America, but everyone else from different countries had never really experienced that before, and because of that everyone wanted it,” Campione said.

“They know of it as ‘the American patch set.’”


Greg Corio grew up hunting and fishing in West Virginia, but he’d never been backpacking or rock climbing or whitewater rafting in this place that is a world destination for outdoor recreation. 

During college, he saved $700 from working at Walmart and took a 13,000-mile road trip with a friend out West visiting 23 national parks. 

“We backpacked 400 miles, and I came back a completely different person,” he said.

Exploring had changed him, and he wanted other young people to have the opportunity to meet themselves and their passions in the outdoors. Corio went on to spearhead the University’s outdoor orientation program, Adventure West Virginia, which has now grown to be one of the largest such programs in the country and includes the nation’s only campus zipline.

Outdoor orientation programs for freshmen do more than provide fresh air. Adventure West Virginia, which has been heavily studied, shows that when a first-generation college student attends an Adventure West Virginia orientation, they are 11.5 percent more likely to return for their second year of college, Corio said.

Boy Scouts dance
Scouts celebrate at the beginning of the opening ceremony show at the 24th World Scout Jamboree. (Photographed by Chuck Eaton) 

He still thought the University’s relationship with the outdoors could grow. When the Summit Bechtel Reserve was announced in 2010, he and others at the University believed that this celebration of scouting was important to WVU, the state and the cause of the outdoors. WVU needed to be a part of it.

The University started working toward a partnership by training canopy tour guides and creating a Science Behind the Sport curriculum. The University provides environmental education to school children and scouts, education at jamborees and now has moved on to providing college leadership and recreation management programs to train the next generation of leaders for the Boy Scouts of America and other nonprofits.

The WVU Institute of Technology at Beckley started a bachelor’s degree in adventure recreation management.

For Director T. Grant Lewis and Teaching Assistant Professor Dave Bernier, this program will take the passion and experience that students may already have and prepare them to manage and grow adventure programs. Outdoor recreation, including adventure, is an $800 billion industry in the U.S. 

Boy Scouts rafting
An aerial view of the Summit Bechtel Reserve and the New River Gorge during 24th World Scout Jamboree. (Photo by Randy Piland)

Just 20 minutes from the Beckley campus is what Corio calls “adventure recreation Disneyland” in the New River Gorge area, where world travelers come to base jump, climb mountains and whitewater raft. It’s also a good place to learn. Lewis and Bernier want their students to learn and develop skills, then apply those in order to be effective managers. This, in turn, will support growth of the industry here and away.

“If you have strong management skills, then you're probably going to have good relationships with your employees, who are the direct line to your client. [Employees] can sell more of an experience than just a day of fun,” Bernier said.

Lewis said in the beginning of the program, students are looking to take their passion to the next step. The students are essentially saying: “This is what I already do.Now I know I can get a degree in it and really work in it full time to make a living. OK, help me with that.”

Jeff Houghton, associate professor of management, directs the organizational leadership degree program at WVU that was designed to fill a need for scouting and nonprofits across the country. Salem University in West Virginia had a program that educated today’s top executives of BSA, but the program has since ended. The Boy Scouts were looking for some assistance and WVU agreed to help.

“We want them to learn by doing,” Houghton said. “We're going to have case studies that come from the Scouts and other types of nonprofits that will integrate into our curriculum.”

The idea of the program is to mesh important business skills such as reading a financial statement and marketing with the passion that drives these college students to pursue leadership for a cause that matters to them.

“We've definitely heard from the Scouts that they need people that have financial and accounting skills, and the people that are in administrative leadership roles in Scouts, they’ve had to learn that, and they'll often say ‘This was the most difficult thing for me to learn.’”

Boy Scout patch board
One camp at the recent World Jamboree had a contest where a scout could add a patch to the board for a chance to win all of the patches on the board. (Photographed by Chuck Eaton).


This program is what attracted Michael Dragone.

In 2018, Dragone, a freshman from northern Virginia, was on Instagram and saw a post by the Boy Scouts about the new leadership degree program at WVU.

“I said, ‘This place is home.’ So I put down my deposit Sept. 8 of last year,” he said.

Scouting was transformative for Dragone, who is a seasonal employee in his home council. When he was a senior patrol leader, he had the idea of writing letters asking for advice from influential people in scouting. Everyone wrote back. It was when joining the Order of the Arrow, the honor society for scouts, that he reflected on why this path of service meant so much to him.

“You could say that service is boring and not fun and not worth your time,” he said. “But when you really see it, it adds a purpose, it adds a value so that we can all love one another.”

He wants these aspirations and experiences to guide him after college.

“Nothing sounds cooler to me than having my office be outside and working with people,” he said.


As Summit Bechtel was being created, Megan Kruger was hired by the West Virginia Water Research Institute at WVU to develop environmental education curriculum based on the work of several WVU researchers, funded by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The reserve, built on a former coal mine, was reclaimed and transformed to include wetlands, clean mountain streatms and a lakeshore which are now outdoor classrooms for the institute's Outdoor Learning Lab for youth.

Boy Scout tents
The setting sun lights up the night sky over Sub-camp D at the National Scout Jamboree. (Photo by Seth Gitner)

“We’re doing science, but we’re doing it outside. We are bringing the science classroom to the wetlands boardwalk, to the mountain streatms and to the lakeshore. We are doing experiments and we’re doing real data collection, all outdoors, all hands-on,” said Kruger, environmental education and outreach coordinator.

“The kids coming into this program, a lot of them would say to me, ‘I don’t like science. Science is boring,’” Kruger said. “And I’m like, ‘Well, have you ever done science outside?’”

They had not. And being outside while learning about water and West Virginia's natural ecosystems led to a new discovery of the world. At Bechtel, using curriculum from the institute, children have learned how to examine the health of ecosystems through water quality sensors, examining bird species and sampling streams to look for acquatic macroinvertebrates. They’ve taught children and scouts who visit Summit Bechtel and the public elsewhere in West Virginia.

When Kruger tells the students that the reserve is reclaimed mine land, they say: “We would have never known.”

“This is what can happen when you really work and try and reclaim a formerly mined area so that it's a success story,” she said. “It really made a big difference. And now there’s this beautiful area where kids can go to and learn and play.”

This kind of learning in cooperation with scouting has grown so much that this fall, the Science Adventure School run by WVU and held at Bechtel launched as an orientation program for sixth graders as they enter middle school. The school includes Kruger's environmental education curriculum, Science Behind the Sport courses and youth development activities.

Program director Ali Jeney said the school is targeted to sixth grade students during the fall because this is the first time the students are meeting each other.

“If we can lead them to relationships with their peers that are positive, where they’re using gratitude with one another, where they’re saying ‘thank you’ and appreciating people even though their backgrounds are so different – If we can launch them off in sixth grade and build these relationships right off the bat, what is that going to look like when someone is struggling next year? And what is that going to look like in high school and they've created these relationships with each other and within their schools?”

More than 500 students from Nicholas, Fayette and Raleigh counties went through the program this fall after a pilot program the year before.

“Their experience here gives me chills,” Jeney said. “They, unsolicited, will say things like ‘I learned that I had courage. I didn’t know that I had so many friends. I can’t wait to get back to school.’”


A group of scouts from the U.K. got on a plane, landed in the U.S., transferred to a charter bus and sometime around 3 a.m. got to Morgantown to sleep a precious few hours in Summit Hall before they rode several hours to southern West Virginia for the jamboree.

At the jamboree, Campione met some of those scouts who seemed impressed at the friendliness of the staff who greeted them in the middle of the night. They, like so many other scouts in the last decade, have met people from WVU before starting a college class and liked what they’ve seen.

For these scouts, their first experience of the U.S. was in West Virginia and their welcome was from someone at WVU. This is now true for school children who are learning about the outdoors, scouts who are exposed to research and future leaders who are taking college classes today to learn how to run American institutions tomorrow.

To them, the words “West Virginia” have become personal.

“We were eight, nine days into the event,” Campione said of the jamboree. “And someone asked me why we have a national anthem just about West Virginia because they thought ‘Country Roads’ was our national anthem.”