UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A group of 24 Pennsylvania 4-H’ers from 11 counties, as well as seven adult chaperones, recently attended “Ignite by 4-H,” a teen summit held in Washington, D.C., that included four days of panels, respected speakers, hands-on workshop sessions, entertainment and opportunities for building connections with teens from across the country.
At the summit, 4-H members ages 14-19 explored topics and career pathways related to STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — agriscience, healthy living, career readiness, and emotional well-being. The event hosted 600 youth from 42 states, as well as Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The Pennsylvania 4-H delegation consisted of two teams that focused on STEM and agriscience.
“We selected teens who were willing to serve as teachers and leaders in their communities after the conference,” said Deb Dietrich, 4-H youth development area educator for southeastern Pennsylvania. “We wanted them to think about how they could apply what they learned over the weekend and make a positive impact back home. At Ignite, this is known as the ‘Lead to Change’ project.”
Dietrich explained that the agriscience team aims to address the decline of native pollinator populations, which has implications for the overall health of the environment. The team will partner with local elementary schools to design and install pollinator gardens and to educate youth about native pollinators.
The STEM action team plans to organize STEM events throughout Pennsylvania, focusing on areas with low levels of engagement with STEM subjects. The goal is to build confidence and capacity among participants and help them realize that STEM is an essential part of daily life. The events will involve several challenges, leading up to a final task in which teams tackle a global issue.
“One thing from the summit that struck me the most is the power of youth solving problems and how collectively we can make a huge difference,” said Ronak Suchindra, a 4-H member from Chester County. “I also enjoyed the hands-on workshops that allowed me to learn something new and consider them as workshops to include in my STEM camps that I plan to conduct.”
At the summit, Penn State Extension 4-H educators contributed their expertise by leading workshops. Three educators and volunteers were selected after submitting proposals and undergoing a peer-review process. Amy Garges facilitated “TBH: Mental Health Is Trending,” Deb Dietrich led “Rain to Drain: Slow the Flow,” and Harold Dietrich guided “Be a Wildlife Biologist!” Some of the 4-H’ers helped present the workshops as well, noted Garges, pointing out the effectiveness of peer-to-peer teaching for teens.
“I absolutely loved being able to connect with complete strangers and make friends immediately, and it’s all because of 4-H,” said Cailyn Shaffer, a 4-H member from Venango County. “My favorite workshop was the ‘Hackathon.’ We built a gadget for our ‘4-H tree house’ that was located at a camp. My group made a tree windmill to help power the whole tree house. We also had an idea to use the tree house as a classroom where youth could learn about STEM and conduct experiments. It was so cool to see the room filled with creativity and the many different models and ideas that were shared.”
The event provided several new strategies for teaching youth about STEM in ways that incorporate real-world situations, Shaffer noted.
According to Dietrich, the teens already were involved in their respective project areas prior to the conference. “The Ignite conference provided an opportunity for them to enhance their skills and leadership abilities in these areas,” she said. “This will enable them to take their projects and involvement in 4-H to the next level.”
U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy was one of the featured speakers and participated in a fireside chat with Norah Carter, Pennsylvania 4-H alumna. The conversation focused on youth mental health. As the Healthy Living Pillar winner for the 2023 4-H Youth in Action Awards, Carter helped organize the conference on a national level.
In addition to attending presentations and workshops, participants took a night tour of the national monuments and visited the Smithsonian museums on the National Mall.
“The most memorable moments from the Ignite Summit for me were spent speaking with the delegates from Puerto Rico in Spanish, both to practice my language skills and connect with them in a personal way,” said Sophia Manidis, a 4-H’er from Berks County and agriscience track attendee. “In a similar vein, I enjoyed speaking with the delegates from the U.S. Virgin Islands and learning about the vastly different problems facing their communities. Conversations such as these were frequent throughout the summit and succeeded in expanding our local perspectives.”
“I highly recommend attending Ignite if you can,” said Eoghan Murphy, a 4-H’er from Wayne County. “It was one of the best experiences I’ve had both in and out of 4-H.”
Added Manidis: “I am incredibly grateful for this unique and profound opportunity to meet passionate peers from across the county, hear from esteemed guests such as the U.S. Surgeon General, speak one-on-one with career professionals, and attend informative and inspiring workshops.”
Several sponsors helped support registration and transportation costs for the Pennsylvania delegation to attend this conference. The STEM group received help from a Google grant through the National 4-H Council.
Twin Valley FFA, the Berks County Farm Bureau, the Chester/Delaware County Farm Bureau, Leeward Renewable Energy and 4-H program development committees provided assistance to the agriscience group.
Administered in Pennsylvania by Penn State Extension, 4-H is a nonformal educational youth-development program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that helps young people develop knowledge and skills to become capable, caring and contributing citizens. To find your local program, visit the Penn State Extension website at https://extension.psu.edu/
–Alexandra McLaughlin, Penn State University