I have been working with Eagle candidates for close to 20 years and I regularly get asked two questions: “What makes a good Eagle Project?” and “How do I pick a good Eagle Project?”
“What makes a good Eagle Project?”
Keeping in mind that every Eagle Project is as unique as the Scout completing it and what works for one is not a good fit for another, I have tried many times to simplify this in my own mind as well as for others. What I have come up with are 6 characteristics that all exceptional Eagle Projects have in common:
- Personal Investment—If a Scout finds a project that he genuinely cares about, he will do whatever is necessary to excel. He should be aware of his surroundings enough to see what is broken in his community and set out to fix it. The old adage “If you are doing something you love, you will never work a day in your life” comes to play here.
- Significant Impact—As the Scout thinks of his project, he should find a way to make an impact on the beneficiary that effects a change in the life of that beneficiary, even if it is only temporary. He should ask himself:
– How will the beneficiary benefit?
– How much will this help?
– How can I make it better?
– Do I need to increase the scope to make my mark?
- Maximum Benefit—Encourage the Scout to take a serious look at his project. He can ask himself:
– Is this truly what the beneficiary needs?
– Is there something that he could do to make his project even better? (Sometimes, there is, sometimes there’s not)
Sometimes, during the execution of the project, he will see something else that can easily be worked in and he will choose to do it, but it is not required.
- Patience and Planning—Planning and development require forethought, effort, and time—sometimes more than for execution. The project should not be rushed. Slow down, pay attention to detail. The Scout should focus on the real goal, not just look to check something off. Sometimes, there’s not enough time to do a project, but, if there is a chance, the Scout should be encouraged and guided. A good test of any project is to evaluate its complexity.
- Individuality—Every Scout is unique. Every project is unique. Each project is treated differently and gauged on the Scout. What may be simple for one Scout could be an insurmountable task for another. As the Scout Leader, we know what this young man is capable of. We need to make them look beyond themselves. I choose to paint a picture of what is possible and encourage him to soar as close to the realm of possibilities as his individual capabilities will allow.
- Leadership—One of the purposes for the project is to demonstrate leadership, but this could be considered a more important element, perhaps, for a Scout who has not yet established himself as a leader. It is for reasons like these that every project must be evaluated, case-by-case, on its merits, and on lessons that will advance the candidate’s growth.
This will be difficult! The Scout should struggle. The Scout should experience challenges and need to go to adults for advice, but overall, the Scout must remain in charge.
“How do I pick a good Eagle Project?”
As for answering the second question, over the years, a formula has come to work for me that, if followed, produces Eagle Projects that the boys truly enjoy. Additionally, the projects produced with this formula seamlessly exhibit the above characteristic. This process is simple, puts the Scout in charge, and has been tested successfully many times.
Step 1. On a blank sheet of paper, have the Scout create 3 columns on the top half. Label them “Interests”, “Skills”, and “Talents.” Then, have the Scout list 8-10 interests, 5-6 skills, and 5-6 talents. The number will usually vary based upon the boy, but, often, a good Scout leader will know where to push.
Step 2. On the bottom half of the paper, using those three columns, pick one from Column A, one from Column B, and one from Column C. Do this 3-5 times and you have basic constructs for projects.
Step 3: Ask the Scout the following questions about each one:
“What do you like about this combination?”
“What would you change about this?”
“What is ‘broke’ in this combination?”
“How can you improve, or ‘fix’ this?”
As the Scout answers these basic questions, a project will emerge that is of his own creation and he is personally invested in. The project builds itself.
Eagle projects, while often the largest project a youth will undertake, do not need to be completely overwhelming or overly mysterious. If the Scout is engaged in a project in which he is truly invested and cares about, he will want to do something great for the beneficiary and for himself.
Author: Tony Woodard | serves on the Utah National Parks Council, BSA Advancement Committee