HAMILTON TOWNSHIP — Science, technology, engineering and math have long been a part of the youth development organization 4-H, but organizers this year are making a push to spotlight the fields and take advantage of the growing awareness of STEM.
“Our tradition and our emblem let people think that we’re just agriculture and animals, but science is involved in all of those. We’re catching on with using the new terminology with the STEM because everybody is familiar with that,” said Debbie Cole, 4-H Agent for Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Atlantic County.
Livestock, tractors and activities lined the grounds for the 55th annual Atlantic County 4-H Fair at the David C. Wood 4-H Center and Fairgrounds on Saturday, but inside the main hall, the 4-H Robotics Team and its STEM ambassadors were putting on demonstrations for attendees and building a hovercraft.
“It’s important because 4-H is for everyone,” said Ashley Ponzetti, 12, of Mullica Township. “Everyone can do anything they want here.”
Ashley is a member of the Robotics Team, led by Steve Foster, of Egg Harbor Township.
Cole said that 4-H has always offered engineering and science clubs on subjects like model railroads and small engines. She said the original “maker movement” about hands-on learning has been the 4-H slogan since 1902. In fact, hands is one of the four H’s in 4-H — the others being head, heart and health.
“Nationally, 4-H is pushing more of a STEM focus,” said Kendrin Dyitt, who coordinates the Atlantic County 4-H STEM Ambassador program. “If you think about it, it’s always been that ‘maker’ space. Now, we have to market it differently.”
The Ambassador program began this summer with four students, who attended a weeklong camp at Rutgers University for students with a strong interest in science.
“They wanted to teach kids more about science,” said ambassador Austin Gross, 15, of Galloway Township, of the program.
Austin, who is studying environmental science at Cedar Creek High School, said the conference taught him leadership skills and ways to teach younger 4-H members about STEM. He believes it will help him as he pursues a career in science.
Robotics Team member Dexter Sullivan, 17, of Egg Harbor Township, said incorporating STEM into 4-H can help children explore the different aspects of the fields.
“I think it would open access to more people. It could potentially streamline the process of engineering for people who normally wouldn’t be interested in it,” Sullivan said.