ORONO, Maine — University of Maine Cooperative Extension recently launched its new 4-H Tick Project, a community science program where youth collect, identify and learn about ticks while contributing to university research.
The project provides children and teenagers an opportunity to explore ticks and tick-borne diseases and understand the connections between climate, ecosystem change and public health. Led by 4-H professionals in Hancock County, the program is open to K–12 youth across the state.
Registration is rolling and will be open for the next several months. Currently, nearly 1,400 youth in 11 counties are involved in the program, with 24 educators leading projects. These are a mix of formal classroom teachers, 4-H volunteers, informal educators (such as land trust staff and camp counselors) and homeschool parents/educators.
Project-based learning initiatives like the 4-H Tick Project allow youth to build knowledge and skills through active, hands-on participation. This experiential learning approach promotes a deep understanding of the subject matter and helps develop practical skills that can be transferred to other areas of life.
“A ‘learning by doing’ philosophy is at the heart of all 4-H projects,” says Carla Scocchi, 4-H professional and project lead. “Authentic learning happens when we connect kids with a real-world project that is meaningful for them and their communities.”
“Doing the tick project made me feel more comfortable going outside and safe in my yard. Now I know which ticks can be really bad, and I can identify them,” says Alexis M., Hancock County 4-H member.
Youth involved in the project collect tick specimens in their local area and submit them to the UMaine Extension Tick Lab for identification and disease testing.
“By engaging youth participants in tick collection and identification, we are able to gather valuable data that helps us better understand tick populations and the distribution of their associated pathogens,” says Tick Lab Coordinator Griffin Dill.
Data collected also contributes to the Maine Forest Tick Survey, a multiyear, multidisciplinary research project led by faculty in the College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture to determine how forest land management practices impact tick populations and disease risk across the state.
The project is a collaborative effort with 4-H, the UMaine Extension Tick Lab, the Maine Forestry Tick Survey and Learning Ecosystems Northeast, a NASA-sponsored partnership focused on building the climate and data literacy youth need to become the next generation of climate stewards.
“This is a wonderful example of collaboration across the university and beyond,” says Hannah Carter, associate provost of online and continuing education and dean of UMaine Extension. “Through these partnerships, we can engage more students in a broader learning community where they can connect with diverse perspectives and build the skills needed to become tomorrow’s leaders.”
About 4-H: 4-H is a community for all kids with programs that suit a variety of backgrounds, interests, budgets and schedules. Programs are grounded in the belief that kids learn best by doing. Participants complete hands-on projects in areas like health, science, agriculture and civic engagement in a positive environment where they receive guidance from adult mentors and are encouraged to take on proactive leadership roles.
About University of Maine Cooperative Extension: As a trusted resource for over 100 years, University of Maine Cooperative Extension has supported UMaine’s land and sea grant public education role by conducting community-driven, research-based programs in every Maine county. UMaine Extension helps support, sustain and grow the food-based economy. It is the only entity in our state that touches every aspect of the Maine Food System, where policy, research, production, processing, commerce, nutrition, and food security and safety are integral and interrelated. UMaine Extension also conducts the most successful out-of-school youth educational program in Maine through 4-H.
About the University of Maine: The University of Maine, founded in Orono in 1865, is the state’s land grant, sea grant and space grant university, with a regional campus at the University of Maine at Machias. UMaine is located on Marsh Island in the homeland of the Penobscot Nation. UMaine Machias is located in the homeland of the Passamaquoddy Nation. As Maine’s flagship public university, UMaine has a statewide mission of teaching, research and economic development, and community service. UMaine is the state’s public research university and a Carnegie R1 top-tier research institution. It attracts students from all 50 states and 86 countries. UMaine currently enrolls 11,571 undergraduate and graduate students, and UMaine Machias enrolls 763 undergraduates. Our students have opportunities to participate in groundbreaking research with world-class scholars. UMaine offers 77 bachelor’s degrees and six undergraduate certificates, as well as more than 100 degree programs through which students can earn doctoral or master’s degrees, professional master’s degrees, and graduate certificates. UMaine Machias offers 18 associate and bachelor’s degrees, and 14 undergraduate certificates. The university promotes environmental stewardship, with substantial efforts campuswide to conserve energy, recycle and adhere to green building standards in new construction. For more information about UMaine and UMaine Machias, visit umaine.edu and machias.edu.
–University of Maine Cooperative Extension