Gary Schroeder stands high atop the Summit Bechtel Reserve, a 14,000-acre facility in West Virginia that every four years hosts Scouting Jamboree, a high adventure camp where Scouts ride on mountain biking trails, scale a rock-climbing wall, and enjoy many other outdoor activities. Last July, the Jamboree drew 15,888 participants and volunteers, and—thanks largely to Schroeder’s efforts—for the first time in its history, it included girls.
“I have a big smile on my face everywhere I walk,” Schroeder says.
Schroeder, national strategic growth initiatives chair for Scouts BSA, has spent a decade spearheading efforts to end gender separation in Scouting. “The girls can do anything the boys can do,” he says. “In today’s society, everybody knows that. We have to have that equality of opportunity.”
As Schroeder ’78, ’80 MS Agr prepared to present his integration proposal to a Scouts BSA planning team in 2014, he foresaw a 49% chance he would get thrown out of the meeting, a 49% chance he would storm out in frustration, and a 2% chance his plans would be received warmly. So the standing ovation he received stunned him.
Scouts BSA became open to girls on Feb. 1, 2019. The first girls to make Eagle Scouts earned that designation in 2021, and membership of girls has now reached 150,000. Last July’s event was the first post-integration Jamboree, and perhaps the greatest evidence of progress, Schroeder says, is how “normal” it seemed. “At this point, I’d say internally, it just kind of is,” he says. “It’s how we do it. It’s what we do.”
Schroeder, who invented a way to grow shiitake mushrooms in the U.S., has been active in Scouting since his youth—he holds the Eagle Scout rank. When his three sons joined the Scouts, he volunteered as a den leader and scoutmaster, then went on to serve on local boards and the Northeast Region board of directors. He now chairs several national BSA committees. —Matt Crossman