(This is the gist of the speech I delivered at Thursday night’s LaSalle Street After Hours Affair for the Chicago Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America.)

This is not a branding exercise.  This is a strategic plan.  I admit it is a bold one and I rightly call myself crazy for even thinking it up.  However, I want to make Chicago the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) capital of the world.  Again.

Again?  Yes, again.  I want to bring a World’s Fair of STEM to Chicago, a two-year celebration of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and the innovation driving them.  I want Chicago to host an event that will leave the city, state and region a world class STEM education complex for the teaching of STEM for the next century, much like the World’s Fair of 1893 left Chicago the Museum of Science and Industry and the Field Museum collection.

It was in those remnants of the Columbian Exposition of 1893 that many of us in Chicago learned STEM outside of the school classroom.  It can be in a dynamic new complex central to a new World’s Fair, a World’s Fair of STEM, that an ongoing STEM focused program continues to reach young people and make Chicago the STEM Capital of the World.  It can be in a complex built today that we prepare our population for the STEM jobs of tomorrow.

I have a plan to make this happen and it begins with the Boy Scouts of America, who are also dedicated to STEM education.  And I am off to a good start on getting the commitments to plant the seeds which could bear the fruits of a World’s Fair.

It all starts with recruiting 300 Boy Scout volunteers a year for the next five years from Chicago’s financial and business community.  It starts this year with recruiting 10 people from 30 different firms to become registered and trained Boy Scout Merit Badge Counselors.  We call the program Trading Tech 300.

The financial industry in Chicago has some of the best STEM talent in the city.  I want to tap into that talent and recruit some of them to become merit badge counselors and mentors to young people in the Boy Scout program.  I want these people and their firms to put on a one-day Merit Badge Fair a year in Chicago.  The firms and individuals that impact the most number of kids will be recognized and raised up at the revitalized LaSalle Street Dinner, now the LaSalle Street After Hours event.

From the 30 firms, we may have five or six days when we cluster these Merit Badge Fairs together, creating opportunities for Boy Scouts from the city, region, state or even country to come to Chicago and take several merit badge classes in a single day.  Or the firms may offer similar Cub Scout programs offering belt loop advancements or STEM Nova Award activities, something new in Scouting to promote STEM.

If we can create this STEM focused, though not exclusively so, Boy Scout program, and recruit the 300 volunteers a year, we will build the civic and commercial support to do something bigger – that is the World’s Fair of STEM.

Chicago is poised to do something big.  The previous mayor tried to bring the Olympics to Chicago.  Why not bring a World’s Fair instead?  And since this one does not meet the requirements of a standard World’s Fair, just like New York’s did not in 1964-65, I say we do it without the blessing of the World’s Fair organization.  

The mayor of Chicago is a big STEM supporter.  Every politician in Chicago and Illinois should be too.  I even have a way to help pay for the ongoing support of the World’s Fair Complex when it is over by using the Illinois Lottery to help fund it. Yes, the Illinois Lottery is supposed to be used to support education in Illinois and that is what this is.

STEM jobs pay more than normal jobs and they help create new jobs.  That helps the state’s revenue issues.  

Creating a program that attracts more kids into Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts has the potential to make a positive impact on Chicago’s crime problem.  Kids as young as six are recruited into gangs, the same age they start Cub Scouts.  We can crowd out bad activity by creating a better good activity, showing kids a pathway to a better future free of guns, gangs and drugs.  Helping kids in Chicago connect with the business community can help them see a better pathway.

The jobs of tomorrow will increasingly involve STEM and we need a STEM educated workforce in order to fill them.  We create the interest in STEM and that workforce by doing something bold, by holding a World’s Fair of STEM and continuing to utilize the resulting world class facilities for years and decades to come.  

I may not see my bold plan realized, but I am trying by personally recruiting the volunteers and the firms to create the Merit Badge Fairs.  And so far the response has been very good.  We have 10 firms who have said yes and 12 more interested. Would you and your firm be willing to participate?



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