University of Minnesota Extension's CYFAR (Children, Youth and Families at Risk) team knows that, in order to keep young teens on track, learning needs to engage them regardless of the circumstances in their lives.
The team is igniting middle-school youth interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). 4-H STEM Clubs are one example of efforts that reach culturally diverse teens in Minneapolis and St. Paul who experience education barriers. These efforts help them form skills and habits that lead to success.
The team also designed and implemented a summer residential 4-H Campus Immersion experience, the first of its kind to focus on the middle grades, which is the time that youth begin to consider college and take steps to make it a reality. "We worked with partners, youth and their families to make the program relevant to young teens while stretching their views of themselves and college life," says Joanna Tzenis, Extension 4-H youth educator who led the experience.
Planning is already underway to bring back the 4-H Campus Immersion experience in July 2016, according to Tzenis.
During this four-day, three-night stay on campus, 4-H'ers worked in the lab with students and faculty from the University's Center for Sustainable Polymers, designed an urban city with the Department of Landscape Architecture, built bio mimicry structures at the Landscape Arboretum, toured aerospace wind tunnels and explored
outer space in the Bell Museum ExploraDome.
The youth also had a chance to venture away from campus for a visit to C.H. Robinson. Information technology professionals there led them on a tour with a scavenger hunt and they learned about internet technology, office culture and the educational pathways of the staff who work there. "The youth still talk about when they can go to C.H. Robinson again," says Tzenis.
Additionally, through a series of 4-H curricular activities, participants developed an educational portfolio in which they documented their goals, their resources and a strategic plan to reach their goals of higher education—including strategies to overcome obstacles. This enriching experience concluded with a family showcase dinner. Every youth participant had family members attend.
One youth reflected on his experience: "I learned it’s hard to do [prepare for college], but it’s for stuff I care about. That’s what 4-H is doing for us, helping us look in our hearts and reach our dreams."
Most young people look toward their futures with hope and ambition, but some have more opportunities to bring their aspirations to life than others. By offering young people an opportunity to imagine and plan for a future life they value in and through higher education, the University of Minnesota Extension 4-H Campus Immersion program is making strides to bridging the higher education aspiration/attainment gap.
See 4-H Urban STEM Clubs for more information and visit Minnesota 4-H Foundation to give.