4-H prepares Latino youth for high-tech future

Tech Wizard students learn STEM subjects from OSU Extension.
Tech Wizard students learn to create websites, produce videos and podcasts, and build robots. (Photo: Rodolfo Arguedas)

'Tech Wizards' learn skills in web development, video and podcast production, GPS technologies and robotics

Jobs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are important to the United States' economic strength. But some are concerned about whether today’s youth have the skills to fill these careers. Of particular concern is the underrepresentation of Latinos in the STEM field. Of Latino college freshmen who began a four-year STEM degree in 2004, only 22 percent completed it within five years.

The Oregon State University Extension Service's 4-H program is trying to change that through a program called Tech Wizards. Launched in 1998, this bilingual afterschool program teaches technological skills to low-income students, particularly Latinos, in grades 9 through 12 who are considered at risk of dropping out of school. Students in the program learn to create websites, produce videos and podcasts, make computerized maps and build robots. They are also required to perform 30 hours of community service each year in tech-related fields.

The program has been so successful that OSU Extension is now in its fourth year of helping to replicate it in 115 counties in 21 states. In Oregon, about 1,000 students have participated in the program. About 95 percent have graduated from high school, and about 70 percent of those have pursued more education in science, technology, engineering or math.

Fabian Jimenez is one of them. He joined the Tech Wizards as a freshman at Sunset High School in Beaverton. He recruited other students to the program and shared his knowledge with younger participants at summer camps, capstone programs and at a robotics lab. He also met with various elected officials, including U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, to explain the importance of STEM-related activities in afterschool programs.

The first in his family to attend a four-year university, Jimenez is now a freshman at George Fox University, where he studies mechanical engineering. Fabian is also an assistant coach for the robotics team. His goal is to mentor and coach the next generation of scientists and engineers.  

Source: Octaviano Merecias-Cuevas, 4-H Tech Wizards coordinator in Washington and Multnomah counties

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