Conservation projects earn Fremd senior rarest of Boy Scout awards
Fremd High School senior Sai Venkatakrishnan not only recently became an Eagle Scout, he also received the rarest Boy Scouts of America award for completing four conservation projects that occupied the last three years of his life.
In late August, Sai became only the 1,349th Boy Scout in 105 years to receive the Silver William T. Hornaday Award for his work in conservation. He is the first recipient from the Chicago area's Pathway to Adventure Council -- created through the merger of four separate Boy Scout councils several years ago -- and also the last, due to the recent discontinuation of the award.
As proud as he is of what he accomplished, Sai said he supports the award's replacement with the Distinguished Conservation Service Award, as more Scouts are likely to be inspired to pursue something more attainable.
"I think that was a good choice," Sai said. "While it was difficult, I did learn a lot."
Sai's projects involved helping remove nonnative buckthorn from the Deer Grove Forest Preserve in Palatine; counteracting silt erosion at a body of water managed by the Barrington area's Citizens for Conservation; creating an instructional pamphlet on recycling for the Rolling Meadows Environmental Committee; and installing an outdoor exhibit at the Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford, as well as studying how switching to LED lighting inside could reduce the museum's energy consumption.
While the COVID-19 pandemic didn't make completion of these projects any easier, it wasn't an excuse to give up, he said.
"The world does not stop for COVID," Sai said.
The Palatine native has also earned 69 merit badges in a variety of subjects, and previously received the Dr. Bernard Harris and Thomas A. Edisto STEM Super Nova medals. As a sixth-grader, he was a member of the first Boy Scout team to send an experiment to the International Space Station, having presented it to mission professionals.
Sai said he sees a strong relationship between STEM disciplines and solving environmental problems.
"We need to apply STEM to make sure we're treating the world right," he said. "Applying STEM to helping the environment can work."
Sai is grateful to all the counselors who guided him on his journey, and invited three of his elementary school teachers to the award presentation.
Wayne Schimpff, a retired Chicago teacher who serves as chairman of the Conservation and Community Committee for the Pathway to Adventure Council, said the Hornaday Award is hardly the only measure of Sai's intellectual skills.
"The teachers he's going to run into in the future better watch out because he has a very curious mind and really wants to know. He will go to any lengths to discover," he said.
Schimpff added that Sai is also evidence of what even more school-aged youth could achieve if they had the right guidance from local conservation agencies.
"We could grow more Sais!" he said with a laugh.