4-H programs designed to make new scientists

Feb 4th, 2010 | By | Category: Campus News, February 4, 2010, Issue

As a way to get the country’s youth more interested in science, the National 4-H Headquarters and National 4-H council have launched the “One Million New Scientists, One Million New Ideas” campaign. In Nebraska, 4-H’ers are well on their way to becoming the next Albert Einstein or Bill Gates by participating in science, engineering and technology programs.

As part of the campaign, these programs are educating youth to be literate in SET areas.

“SET programs in the non-formal learning environment are important because they offer youth an opportunity to experience success by providing hands-on, minds-on activities with a caring adult,” said Brad Barker, UNL science and technology specialist in 4-H youth development. “In addition, our research has shown that youth who participate in our programs often experience an increased interest in SET and related careers.”

The SET programs also are increasing interest in 4-H and attracting non-traditional 4-H participants, Barker said.

The Nebraska SET curriculum 4-H’ers have been participating in includes a national robotics curriculum and the GEAR-Tech-21 program, which stands for geospatial and robotics technologies for the 21st century workplace. This program came about with funding from the National Science Foundation. It combines robotics, global positioning system and geographic information systems.

“Nebraska 4-H’s Gear-Tech 21 program has sparked an interest in robotics in several of our county’s 4-H’ers,” said Pam Scholz, a 4-H leader in Saline County. The county has started a robotics team.

“They are growing in their ability to problem-solve, building their critical thinking skills and learning to work as a team. Best of all, they are having a blast and don’t realize how hard they’re working,” she said. “As a parent, I can honestly say the program has influenced my son to pursue a career as a robotics engineer.”

A new program called the Power of Wind also will debut soon. Additional programs continue to be developed at the national level as well.

“While we don’t expect 100 percent of our 4-H youth participants to be scientists or engineers, we hope these programs make them better-informed citizens,” Barker said. “As citizens they will some day have to make important decisions based on their understanding of the issues. For example, cloning or genetically modified crops all deal with SET concepts.”

Eric Freitas, a 4-H leader in Clay County, said these kinds of programs are important because kids learn about problem solving and teamwork.

“Exposure to technology, and how to properly use it, will give the students valuable experience they can employ in college or the workplace,” he said. “Technology is changing rapidly, and getting a leg up on change early in life will help them adapt quicker in the future.”

Freitas said the robotics program helps 4-H’ers learn to solve both mechanical and programming problems. 4-H’ers are given a task, then build the best robot they can to solve the specific challenges that they are given. The 4-H’ers then program the robot to run through a course.

“The various competitions that are open to the 4-H’ers are a great experience for them,” he said.

For more information about 4-H’s One Million New Scientists. One Million New Ideas. campaign, go to http://go.unl.edu/963.

— By Sandi Alswager Karstens, IANR News Service

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