4-H Builds the Next Generation of STEM Leaders

May 06, 2014

Audrey Lane didn't care about genetics when her high school class was learning how a parent's genes determines their child's eye color. Her "aha" moment came during the Dakota County 4-H dairy project. Audrey learned how genetics factor into raising a healthy cow, including milk production values, which she was evaluated on during the Minnesota State Fair.

"4-H was the first place I learned the practical application of studying genetics," says Audrey, now 19 years old and majoring in genetic cell biology and development in the College of Biological Sciences at the University of Minnesota. "4-H made the science real. Learning how genetics was used in the dairy industry made it seem much more important."

In Waseca County, Ryan Strobel's first in-depth experience learning about animal health came through the 4-H swine project. "In 4-H, I got to work with a vet and manage the pigs on my own. I learned how quickly their health could change, and the signs to watch for." Ryan is now in his first year of the U's VetFAST program, which was created to address the shortage of livestock veterinarians. VetFAST is a collaboration of the College of Veterinary Medicine and the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences.

Sparking interest in STEM is a priority for 4-H. "There is a critical need for skilled STEM professionals, nationally and in Minnesota," says Dorothy Freeman, Extension associate dean for youth development and state 4-H director. "We know engaging youth in STEM at an early age increases the likelihood of their continued interest."

"Kids sometimes think scientists just do experiments in labs, and engineers only build and fix trains," says Hui Hui Wang, STEM educator for Extension 4-H youth development and the University's STEM Education Center. "When youth get to try and figure out how to design and build a robot that can collect water samples in a lake, they're getting excited about engineering without realizing it. Then they learn that scientists and engineers are just like them, people skilled at asking questions, identifying problems and finding creative solutions."

Building skills that can transfer to many careers is what 4-H does through its youth-driven experiential learning model. In fact, 4-H youth are more likely to pursue future study or careers in science, engineering or computer technology, according to a national study by Tufts University.

Source: University of Minnesota

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