In 2012, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology predicted that over the next decade, U.S. industries will need one million more STEM graduates than the nation will have.
In 2013, Ohio State University Extension created the STEM Pathways signature program to spark enthusiasm in young people about science, technology, engineering and math. “STEM isn’t dry and boring. It’s fun, it’s exciting,” said Patty House, 4-H youth development educator and program leader. “You can use it to help solve real-world problems.” In its first year, STEM Pathways developed a dozen 30- to 60-minute challenges and attracted an estimated 8,500 participants across Ohio. Challenges were piloted at the Global Impact STEM Academy in Springfield, where director Josh Jennings is a huge proponent. “There’s no real prescribed step-by-step procedure they follow, because that’s the important thing: The students have to solve the problem on their own,” Jennings said. “When something happens they don’t expect, it kind of blows their minds.”
STEM Pathways Challenge topics include diabetes, ergonomics, animal behavior, chemical spills, mining and bioproducts. One, the Fish Farm Challenge, was selected by the National 4-H Council and Monsanto to be the 2014 4-H Ag Innovators Experience for eight midwestern states. Leaders estimate 10,000 youth will participate in the challenge, designed to explore how to boost food production through aquaculture.
Here are some other 4-H initiatives:
- Nearly 5,000 children and teens in Cleveland learn a lifelong appreciation of nature and understanding of natural resources through Youth Outdoors, a unique collaboration between Ohio 4-H, the City of Cleveland Division of Recreation, and Cleveland Metroparks: go.osu.edu/youthoutdoors.
- Two urban schools, one each in Cleveland and in Cincinnati, host “4-H Agri-science in the City,” which provides hands-on classroom instruction as a complement to regular coursework, as well as afterschool and summer programs: go.osu.edu/cityagriscience.
“The whole idea of STEM is not just taking a rigorous engineering or mathematics course,” Jennings said. “STEM is a whole different process of looking at things. You present students with a problem, and they use their creativity and critical thinking skills to figure it out.”