S.T.E.M. is an acronym heard nearly everywhere in the realm of education today. S.T.E.M. stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math and these are the key areas in which we are challenged to increase competency in our youth. Our world is becoming more technology-based everyday and the workforce of tomorrow will need to be prepared for success in S.T.E.M. careers. The 4-H program joined the effort early on and has continued to be at the forefront of the push to inspire youth to consider careers in the fields of science and technology.
4-H Rooted in Science
4-H had a focus on science with its roots in agriscience a hundred years ago. At that time, farmers were often resistant to adopt new methods of growing crops. The children of the farmers were willing to give agriscience a chance and this is how 4-H had its start. From that time forward agricultural sciences have been integral to the 4-H program. Eventually Extension became a leader in educating agriculturists and homeowners in best management practices (BMPs) that are friendly to the environment. Once again, 4-H was a partner by offering a wide variety of environmental education projects, camps, and contests designed to help change the practices of the next generation.
The Workforce of Tomorrow
In the last decade, the emphasis has been to look to the future and equip youth for the world they will join as adults. How could we help them see the opportunities for successful careers in S.T.E.M.? The answer was to use the “Learn by Doing” method that has been the cornerstone of 4-H from the beginning. At the National level, 4-H created partnerships with corporations that need a prepared and diverse workforce to fill future needs. The National 4-H Youth Science Day initiative came from this partnership with private industry. Partners also funded grants for states to focus efforts with minorities and females who have been traditionally underrepresented in S.T.E.M. careers.
Robotics is a highly popular S.T.E.M. project in 4-H and Orange County currently supports five clubs that are active in Junior Lego Leagues up through high-school age FIRST Robotics. Engineering firms are very important partners both in financial support as well as mentoring of these clubs. Orange County 4-H recently joined with Osceola County to offer more S.T.E.M. opportunities to youth in Central Florida through community events, after-school programs and corporate mentors with funding through the National 4-H Council and Lockheed Martin. The goal is to set more youth on the path toward fulfilling careers in science and technology and in turn provide a well-prepared workforce of tomorrow.