4-H develops future scientists and other critical thinkers

4-H students LEGO robot
4-H students learn to build robots out of LEGOs then take part in competitions. (Photo by Edwin Remsberg.)
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Extension's 4-H program enhances science competitiveness for Oregon’s future

Only about one in five U.S. high school seniors is proficient in science, meaning that many young people are not prepared with the necessary science skills to compete in the 21st century workforce.

In response, the OSU Extension Service's 4-H program emphasizes science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in educational activities for youth throughout the state. In 4-H, where kids learn by doing, positive experiences in the sciences during the developmental years help open doors to science-related careers later in life.

In Curry County, for example, 4-H offers surfing clubs and camps as a gateway to teach youth about marine science as well as how to carve waves. A dozen such camps have reached over 250 youth. In evaluations, two-thirds of camp participants said they're now more interested in marine science. And teens who previously had little or no interest in the subject are now participating in year-round 4-H environmental stewardship activities. Some are helping the National Oceanice and Atmospheric Administration track potentially invasive coastal debris in Gold Beach from the Japanese tsunami.

Following on the heels of that program's success, 4-H launched the Marine Ambassadors program in 2013. In its first year, about 60 teens from all over the state spent a week on OSU's campus in Corvallis and at its science center in Newport learning about marine science, ocean technologies and underwater robotics. Another 40 signed up for the 2014 camp.

In the Columbia River Gorge, more than 400 students in kindergarten through 12th grade participate in 4-H science programs. They build and program robots that operate on land and underwater and then showcase their skills in competitions. In addition, youth explore science through art, cooking, horticulture and product development. They report improvements in self-confidence, public speaking, teamwork abilities and research and problem-solving skills.

In partnership with others, 4-H also offers the Inner City Youth Institute. Through school-year activities in Portland and summer camps in Salem and Corvallis, the institute encourages Portland youth to explore higher education and careers in the natural sciences. It promotes safe outdoor learning environments and creates mentorship opportunities with natural resource professionals. Surveys of Oregon 4-H summer camps indicate a majority of camp
participants are learning new things about science at the camps and
increasing their interest in science because of attending them.

Also in Portland, 4-H's ExCEL program works with the Oregon Zoo to expose kids to careers as fish and wildlife biologists and animal scientists. Over the course of a 20-hour training program, teens listen to a panel of professionals, visit with faculty at OSU and learn about ways to fund their education. Participants say they are now more confident in their ability to select careers that fit them, and they better understand the steps needed to accomplish their goals.

Contact: Pat Willis, 4-H Extension specialist in Multnomah and Washington counties; Michelle Carrillo, 4-H coordinator in Curry County.

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