Kevin Pagenkop

Kevin Pagenkop

Story Vault

by Kevin Pagenkop

During a recent Internet surfing session, a newspaper article from Kansas caught my eye. The featured story involved a Boy Scout who had recently received the prestige of successfully completing the requirements to attain the rank of Eagle Scout, the Boy Scouts of America’s highest advancement rank. Only 5% of Boy Scouts ever complete the requirements to become Eagle Scouts, but of those who accomplish this achievement, a large percentage of them continue their service into adulthood as astronauts, career military officers, or politicians. What made this specific story so appealing was not just that the young man featured, Curry McWilliams, became an Eagle Scout, but it was the manner in which he completed the difficult requirements.

For those not familiar with the Boy Scouts of America, education is accrued through the receipt of Merit Badges. The subjects are learned through classes, selfstudy, or apprenticeship instruction. Once the applicable skills are successfully demonstrated or the required tasks completed (some of which take months to complete), the Scout is presented with a small, circular patch that can then be sewn to a sash worn with his uniform. While the number of patches worn is certainly a point of pride, these patches are a physical representation of the knowledge gained and correlate to the number of years an individual has been a Scout. Merit Badges are offered for a variety of subjects and are not necessarily specific to camping or the outdoors (subjects most associated with the Boy Scouts of America). There are badges for business, architecture, computers, electronics, graphic arts, welding, and chemistry, to name a few.

To rise to the rank of Eagle Scout requires the successful completion of 21 Merit Badges. Curry McWilliams’ amazing accomplishment was that after he had earned the required 21 badges, he continued his self-education and did not stop taking classes and learning new subjects until he had successfully completed the requirements for every Merit Badge available—132 in total. That’s more than six times what was required.

After reading this article, I was left with a couple of thoughts: What level of service could we provide our callers if we applied more than six times the effort required? What if we just marginally exceeded the minimum requirements of our jobs? What if “good” could be replaced by “great”?

Certification and accrual of continuing education unit hours is often regarded as nothing more than the mandatory application of effort simply to maintain the means to receive a paycheck. This is often more prevalent the further we advance in our careers and begin to get cynical, frustrated, or burned-out. What once was new and exciting becomes routine or boring. How does that then relate to the quality of service we are providing? Do we find ourselves simply going through the motions and working to meet the minimum requirements or standards?

Continuing education should be viewed like Merit Badges and not simply a required amount of training hours that we procrastinate accruing. There are a variety of topics and venues that range from improving existing skills, gaining new skills, or simply general interest or entertainment. Taking the time and making the effort to self-improve should be celebrated. We may not sew our course certificates to our uniforms but we should work to create a culture where education is valued. Whether or not the completion of additional education is undertaken toward career advancement or simply as an opportunity to improve the quality of service provided, we should encourage one another to continually apply ourselves and work toward mastering our trades. Don’t we expect the highest level of professionalism from others? We need to hold everyone to that same ideal.

Curry McWilliams is not an emergency telecommunicator and comparing the difficult jobs we do each shift to a Boy Scout may strike some as insulting, but this young man completed the training and earned Merit Badges for Communications, Emergency Preparedness, Fire Safety, First Aid, Lifesaving, Medicine, Public Health, Radio, Safety, and Traffic Safety. In fact, examining the Boy Scouts of America in totality, the most often earned Merit Badge since 1910 has been First Aid, with almost 7 million Scouts completing the requirements to wear the badge. Perhaps these similarities are proof that when individuals accept the responsibility to provide service to their community, whether it’s as a Boy Scout or as a Public Safety Dispatcher, “good” shouldn’t be “good enough.”