With 2017 upon us, HughesNet and 4-H are looking forward to supporting our nation’s youth with another exciting year of hands-on STEM activities. As we enter the fourth year of our partnership, we sat down with 4-H Program Director for STEM, Janet Golden, to discuss how STEM initiatives have grown and how they will continue to inspire the next generation of leaders.
- Have you seen an increase in the demand for STEM programming over the past several years?
There’s no question that across the country, demand for high quality STEM programming is on the rise. A quick look at the news on a given day reveals just how much innovation in STEM fields is powering our economy and changing the way we live. Today’s youth are excited about the technological innovation that they are going to be leading the next several decades—whether we’re talking about colonizing Mars, pioneering new sustainable energy sources or delivering packages via drones.
Our message to young people—and it is one that many kids are intrinsically picking up on—is that there has never been a more exciting time to get involved in STEM. And STEM learning is fun when you learn to do fun things like fly drones, program robots, study your favorite animal or design wearable technologies, you are also learning the skills that will allow you to be one of tomorrow’s great innovators and problem-solvers.
On the ground, we’ve seen the rising demand for STEM learning translate into growth in STEM-focused 4-H clubs and a steady rise in the number of 4-H STEM projects. Every year, 4-H youth complete more than 5 million 4-H STEM projects in robotics, agricultural science, rocketry, wind power, environmental science and alternative energy. To meet this rising demand, 4-H has been hiring full-time, dedicated STEM specialists all across the country. This means we have greater capacity to deliver more high-quality programming to more youth in more places.
- How does 4-H plan on growing its STEM initiatives in the coming years? What is the most exciting STEM initiative we can look forward to in 2017?
At 4-H we’re always working on growing our impact in the STEM space. One way we stay ahead of the curve is by constantly developing and launching new curricula on exciting topics. All year round, our network of Land Grant Universities is working hard to develop new STEM curricula that is hands-on, fun and effective. Once curricula have been developed by a university team, a special panel of STEM experts evaluates each course and chooses a selection to offer at a national level. Just recently we launched an exciting new computer science curriculum, a storm water and green infrastructure curriculum and many others. Looking ahead, university teams are working developing curricula on a wide variety of exciting topics, from wearable technology to sustainable energy.
One exciting STEM milestone for 4-H in 2017 will be the tenth anniversary of 4-H National Youth Science Day (4-H NYSD). During 4-H NYSD, approximately 100,000 kids across the country (and growing) participate in the same science challenge on the same day. It’s actually the largest youth-led science challenge in the world. What makes it special is that each year 4-H picks a relevant, hot topic in the STEM arena, and then works with a Land Grant University to develop an exciting challenge that allows youth to explore that topic in a hands-on way. Last year we partnered with Cornell University to develop a drone challenge called Drone Discovery. We’re already hard at work on next year’s challenge and will be making a big announcement about the topic and more on the 4-H NYSD website in the new year!
- As 4-H looks to get more youth involved with STEM, what’s its approach to engaging girls?
Getting girls interested in STEM is an important goal not only for 4-H, it’s an essential part of ensuring that the economy of tomorrow includes the best and brightest talent. Like everything we do, a key element of our approach is in our university-developed curricula. The university researchers who develop our programming are very cognizant of the need for our STEM programs to appeal to both boys and girls, and youth from all backgrounds. Everything we offer is hands-on and engaging, and we have such a wide variety of curricula that there is a place to begin for everyone, no matter where your interests lie.
Another part of our approach is our co-ed positive youth development model, which provides girls and boys access to safe learning environments; challenging experiences that build practical life skills, competencies, and resiliency; and partnerships with caring adult mentors. This approach means that girls build confidence and STEM skills alongside boys, instead of separately. Longitudinal research on 4-H programming suggests that this co-ed positive youth development model has a strong positive effect on encouraging girls to pursue STEM. In fact, 4-H girls are between two and three times more likely to participate in STEM programs compared to girls in other out-of-school time activities.
We are also constantly developing new ways to engage more girls in STEM. Part of our focus in the coming years is to provide our professionals and volunteers with more resources and training on best practices to continually strengthen their skills in this area. National 4-H Council is already in the process of working with North Dakota State to create resources for engaging girls in STEM that will be ready to launch in the fall of 2017.
- Where can parents, club leaders, etc. find the best resources to help inspire the next generation to get involved in STEM in 2017?
The best place to start is our website: www.4-h.org.
From there, parents, volunteers and professionals can find a whole range of resources, curricula and ways to get involved with 4-H. You can also use our handy club locator to find a STEM club near you!