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STEM Ambassadors Provide Launch Pad to Science

The program pairs college students with children attending the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). During the program, the young adults introduce a science theme to the youth; in 2019, the theme is aerospace.

Kim designed the curriculum, which progresses the children incrementally from building helicopters to gliders and finally rockets. They learn how weight and building materials can affect the flight of each and can return at later date to launch their rockets outside. “I see it as strengthening our community partnerships,” says Kim. “It’s a fun way of learning science.”

Sean, age 10, concurs. “It was amazing! The adults were great, the kids were friendly and the stuff we did was so much fun.” Just as amazing was the reaction Sean’s mom noticed from her once-reluctant scholar. “Yesterday after the 4-H Aerospace event, he explained every piece of material he brought home and how it worked.  He continued to talk about all the activities that he did.  You have no idea how pleased I was to see him so intrigued and excited about the whole day.”

The program targets elementary school aged children, as data shows STEM interest needs to be piqued before middle school, especially for girls, says Kim. As underserved children may not have access to STEM programs to the same degree as their wealthier peers, STEM Ambassadors fills a crucial need. Kim also shares these STEM programs with local libraries, so they can implement them.

To become a STEM Ambassador, applicants must be a rising college freshman or current college student, either attending UMass-Amherst /UMass-Amherst-Mount Ida or be a 4-H alum at another university. STEM Ambassadors don’t need to be science majors and often pursue fields such as psychology. They typically deliver the program about 15-20 hours per week, often pairing it with another summer job, says Kim.

Though the children’s eyes light up as they build and launch their rockets, Kim believes they benefit most from the “soft skills” they learn, like teamwork, which they need to “set them up for success in the future,” she says.

Plans for the 2020 program are already underway, with a theme of plants and animals tentatively titled Tales and Tails. “We’re going to ramp it up and change some activities going forward,” says Kim.

Massachusetts 4-H Receives Google Grant

One of 21 state chapters to receive part of the $6 million grant, Massachusetts 4-H’s goal will be to create access to computer science education for all, focusing on youth in rural or underserved areas.

The grant will be used to contribute learning resources and tools to 4-H leaders and educators in Massachusetts, including:

  • Professional development for 4-H educators
  • Teen mentor training
  • Connected devices, including Chromebooks and Expedition kits
  • Access to Google’s computer science expertise

The Google grant builds upon 2017 funding from the company, which helped create the 4-H CS Pathway, reaching more than 325,000 youth through 3,000 adult volunteers in the past two years. The collaboration combines the reach and educational expertise of 4-H, the nation’s largest youth development organization, and the power of Google’s CS products, educational programs, and employee volunteers who have dedicated more than 1,000 hours to support 4-H youth as they explore CS.

“Being a part of this collaboration allows Massachusetts 4-H to step up as a CS Pathways Launcher and bring computational thinking skills needed today not only into our existing 4-H programs but also to new audiences,” says Kim Pond, UMass Extension Educator and 4-H S.E.T. Liaison.  “4-H has over 100 years of bringing science from the Land Grant University System to the people …The great thing about this program is you don’t have to already be involved in Computer Science.  You don’t even have even have to have access to a computer lab or devices as there is a whole realm of unplugged activities that are exciting and hands-on.”

Computer science promotes life skills such as computational thinking, teamwork, and problem solving, preparing Massachusetts youth for career opportunities in a technology-rich state.

To learn how to get involved with programs originating from the Google grant, contact Ms. Pond at: [email protected]

4-H Profile in Courage: Briyanna Henry

Four years ago, Briyanna’s view of herself in the world was very different. She says she was always thinking about the worst possible outcome to any situation. She wasn’t happy with her behavior and that negative self-image seemed to be unshakeable. Inside, she wished to change and become the person she wanted to be, but was just too afraid to do it. Then Briyanna’s sister introduced her to 4-H.

“I joined the Springfield 4-H after-school program when I was in the 6th grade,” Briyanna says. “My sister introduced me to Lauren DuBois, the 4-H educator. At first, I was very quiet” and felt uncomfortable. When Briyanna realized that everyone else was interacting freely and her isolation was self-imposed, she began speaking up more and just “being herself.” Within months, she had developed friendships, visited UMass Amherst for campus tours and hands-on science projects, and was talking with people in all kinds of situations; from the Dean of Agricultural Sciences at UMass to the Governor of Massachusetts.

“Joining 4-H was a big step for me and seeing how well I was doing in the program made me feel more confident in my social skills,” Briyanna writes in her biography. At her school, that confidence carried over as she tackled special academic projects and extracurricular activities. Explaining how she was able to take advantage of opportunities and extend her abilities, she states that “In my head, I saw myself getting good grades and interacting with a lot of new people.” This was a very different mindset for her.

Before 4-H, Briyanna says, “I wouldn’t have been able to give minitoursor play sports, or even work with other people to create something cool.  I wouldn’t have had a mindset where I could jump into something new. I definitely wouldn’t have had the courage to talk to important people about a major topic.”

She goes on to say, “There is still that thought in my mind that forces me to think about the worst situation, but I’ve learned not to be afraid to try new things because they can often lead to great experiences. I feel myself becoming the person I want to be.”

4-H Educator Lauren Dubois has also seen a dramatic change in confidence since Briyanna first walked into the 4-H afterschool program.

“She was shy at first and then she blossomed,” says Lauren. “4-H has guided her in a positive way, giving her public speaking, leadership, and skill mastering opportunities.” Briyanna has been hired for two summers to assist Lauren in facilitating the 4-H programs for community centers in Springfield. During the past two years, she has been a Youth Leader at the three-day overnight Summer of Science program.

Briyanna also gives back to 4-H through community service, working with afterschool programs in Springfield and Holyoke. As a tutor/mentor, she helps younger 4-Her’s with homework and creates fun projects for them, like balloon-powered cars. Briyanna says she didn’t see herself as someone “who would work with kids but, surprisingly, I enjoy myself every time I go. The kids are so excited to build things and they always make me laugh.”

“Briyanna is very professional and hard-working,” says Lauren. “She is passionate about making everyone who comes in contact with her a little better than before they met her. Just by being around her positive energy she has made me a better 4-H Educator and person.”

When talking about her, Lauren is quick to point out that “Briyanna has always been this incredible person, but 4-H provided the opportunity for that turning point, that light bulb to go off, and the skill sets that are necessary for such growth to take place.” Through 4-H, adults bring consistency and commitment into young people’s lives. That stability allows for positive changes.

“Opportunity is a huge word. It’s why I love working for 4-H,” says Lauren. “I’ve met many young people like Briyanna, who thrive on opportunity. The young people love the 4-H science program because, in a very hands-on, and often messy way, it adds an educational component to their afterschool activities. Funding is so important to the success of our program, because it allows us to bring young people on college visits, to talks and events. More money equals more opportunities.”

Through its funding support, the Massachusetts 4-H Foundation helps create opportunities for young people to blossom. One activity that the Foundation is involved in is writing grant proposals to ensure the sustainability for the Improving 4-H Science program. Grants from the Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation and the Esther B. Kahn Foundation enabled the hiring of a program assistant, Lizmarie Lopez. A resident of Springfield, Lizmarie is a graduate of Smith College, fluent in three languages, and skilled in creating and teaching STEM curriculum. We just learned that the Beveridge Family Foundation is awarding a significant grant that will ensure the science program will continue for the next school year. Also, the 4-H Foundation has committed to providing substantial in-kind contributions.

Collaboration with community partners is a key element of many 4-H programs. The Improving 4-H Science: Focus on STEM program has an eight-year history of working with four community organizations in different neighborhoods. It reaches 80 youth annually in Holyoke and Springfield within the 32 weeks of after-school programming. STEM programming is an urgent priority for the communities and the school systems: the national juried 4-H science curriculum provides hands-on and “minds-on” science for young people to develop their observational, critical thinking, and problem solving skills.

Lauren continues to work with the community partners in a long-term relationship. The resulting shared knowledge and access to 4-H curriculum have a ripple effect through the community, making the positive effects sustainable. For young people like Briyanna, the effects are lifelong.

“I feel so fortunate to be a part of Briyanna’s life, seeing all she has accomplished,” says Lauren. “She is exactly what 4-H strives to createa motivated and confident young person who contributes to the betterment of herself, her community, her country, and her world. She wants to go to college and become an engineer. I am so looking forward to the day that I get to watch her walk across the graduation stage and receive her engineering degree.”

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