How often do young people get the opportunity to try out careers in actual workspaces, led by industry experts?
At the Foundation-supported Explore UMass program in June, 4-H youth entering grades 7-11 had the opportunity to sample science careers at UMass Amherst. They also enjoyed the dorm experience and the renowned UMass food! Youth from 4-H clubs and the 4-H STEAM (Science/Technology/Engineering/Arts/Math) program chose a track from the areas of nursing, food science, urban design, and veterinary science to see what a STEM career would be like firsthand.
The nursing track, led by Margaret Kumin from the Elaine Marieb College of Nursing, sparked the 4-Hers’ interest with activities such as taking a patient’s vital signs and assessing patient room safety. The youth also learned how to use plants for medicinal purposes.
The youth in the food science track, led by Amanda Kinchla, Associate Professor in the UMass Food Science department, tackled the challenge of mixing the perfect low calorie lemonade by combining different sweetening agents. This enabled them to learn about the chemistry of food. “Their threshold was that their lemonade needed to be 20 calories or less,” explained Lizmarie Ulloa, UMass Program Assistant. In the afternoon, the participants tinkered with gelatin, working to build both the largest and the longest gelatin sculpture they could. Throughout the food science activities, they utilized real food science equipment such as pipettes and scales.
Michael Di Pasquale, Assistant Professor of Regional Planning, led the urban design students in learning about container homes, which are tiny homes made of metal. In the process of building model container homes, the 4-Hers learned how to draw to perspective and scale, just as an architect would, with the same tools. This track provided a unique firsthand look at architecture, according to 4-H Educator Lauren Dubois. “The 4-Hers gained new knowledge about container houses,” Lauren said. “They used all the tools that an urban designer would, and they are in the space that they work in.”
The veterinary tech track, led by Carrie Chickering-Sears, UMass 4-H Animal Program Manager, offered a varied program, from taking the vital signs of horses and sheep to examining parasites under microscopes. The eleven participants were also given details on admission to the UMass Animal Science program.
Kim Pond, 4-H SET Program Manager, described the broader benefits the youth gain from Explore UMass. “The gain is exposure to different careers and on what college life has to offer,” said Kim. She notes that all are glad to return to the original three-day program format, after Explore UMass had been shortened to one day in 2022.
Seventh graders Dylan and Aeva of the Upton Hoofbeats Club participated in Explore UMass. “My favorite activity was when you had a popsicle stick and you had to balance as many dice on it as you could,” said Dylan.
Both girls followed the food science track and found the lemonade and gelatin activities interesting. “We learned what was in food, and how difficult things in food science can be,” said Aeva. The social aspects of Explore UMass will be just as memorable for the girls. “I liked that we got to be in a dorm with people that we knew,” said Aeva. “I got to be with my cousins and friends from 4-H.”
Explore UMass seeks professional experts to lead tracks in future program years. If you are interested in lending your talents and skills, please contact Kim Pond at [email protected].