By ANDREW HANSON
KEARNEY – When the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s Wellness Center opened in 2014, the possibilities to partner with the public were endless.
It opened the doors to enhanced learning experiences, community wellness programs and, recently, a Boy Scouts merit badge program.
Greg Brown, professor in exercise science and a scoutmaster himself, was approached a few years ago by an area troop about offering a personal fitness merit badge to area scouts. That led to a partnership between Scoutmaster Bryan Falk’s Troop 139 of Kearney and UNK exercise science students.
“It’s important for our students to get involved outside of class and get some real, practical experiences,” Brown said. “It’s an opportunity for the community to see what we have to offer.”
Twenty-three Boy Scouts from Falk’s troop and Troop 136 of Kearney are visiting the Wellness Center once a month and developing fitness plans on their own under the guidance of UNK students, who are either participating in a practicum with the Wellness Center or are in one of Brown’s classes.
Scouts will visit every four weeks until mid-April and learn about exercise elements such as strength training and flexibility. UNK students also help calculate measurements such as body mass index. Other factors that go into the merit badge include a physical exam from a physician, healthy meal planning and reflection upon the fitness testing.
The educational component benefits both sides, said Brown.
“It’s a great thing for our students. It’s a good chance for them to practice,” he said. “There are Boy Scout troops all over the place. Sometimes they need help to do the merit badge. If someone is a school teacher, it can be a nice thing for them to become a merit badge counselor.”
While one group of scouts work on their fitness testing, the other half spends time on UNK’s climbing wall.
“The rock-climbing wall alone is just a godsend,” Falk said. “We used to have to go down to Lincoln once a year for that. Now, the rock-climbing wall is literally right down the street.”
UNK has worked with area Boy Scouts for many years. Attendance and participation in the merit badge program has been up since the addition of the climbing wall, said Brown.
“It’s a great tool to get the young kids in here, to come in and see our facility and the UNK campus,” Brown said. “We have Kearney as a community, UNK as a campus and we’re bringing it all together. That’s one of the things that I love about it.”