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Michigan 4-H precollege programs prepare future STEM professionals

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Although school is finally back in session, for many 4-H youth the learning never stopped this summer. As the demand for individuals in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines continues to grow, Michigan State University Extension is helping to meet the need with a host of science-based summer camps.

A recent MSU study found that high school students who engage in precollege programs with an emphasis on science are more likely to attend college and pursue careers in the STEM fields. This summer, more than 2,000 youth attended science-focused precollege camps presented by Michigan 4-H, the youth development arm of MSU Extension, to help build the next generation of scientists, technologists,  engineers and mathematicians.

The second annual Michigan 4-H Animal and Veterinary Science Camp, held June 15-19, engaged 40 youth in science activities related to animal health and management as well as veterinary medicine. While enjoying life as a college student on the MSU campus, youth explored careers in animal and veterinary science through a host of speakers and hands-on tours.

“This precollege program has broadened my view of veterinary science,” commented one Kent County youth participant. “It affects and is connected to so many other fields of science, including agricultural production and environmental conservation.”

Though not an exclusively science-focused event, Michigan 4-H’s largest precollege program – 4-H Exploration Days – offered many science-based activities for youth with those interests. Among the 200  sessions available to more than 1,900 youth, more than 25 percent  were in STEM fields, on topics ranging from robotics to animal reproduction and infrared radiation to entomology. After attending this three-day event June 24-26, 95 percent of surveyed youth indicated that they planned to attend college, and 88 percent that they’d gained awareness of career and job possibilities related to their skills and interests.

Now in its fifth year of existence, 4-H Renewable Energy Camp allowed participants to discover the science and math behind energy production in Michigan’s agriculture and natural resource sectors. At this July 6-10 camp, 39 youth learned about solar, wind and bioenergy, heard from experts in the field and visited renewable energy production sites. Of those surveyed, 97 percent of camp participants reported that the program prepared them to attend college, and 89 percent indicated that they were more likely to pursue a career in the renewable energy field as a result.

Held on the shores of Lake Huron in the heart of northern Michigan, 4-H Great Lakes Natural Resources Camp (GLNRC) provided campers with a firsthand look at environmental science-based topics such as coastal and fisheries management, limnology, forestry, geography and geology. Sixty-five youth at this year’s camp, held August 2-8, explored both inland and Great Lakes ecosystems and interacted with leading scientists and professionals in the natural resources field.

“This camp has really helped me find my way,” said one Livingston County youth participant. “I have so many ideas for future jobs.”

In fact, 87 percent of GLNRC participants reported being more knowledgeable about career opportunities in the environmental science-related fields, and 84 percent said the program made them excited to go to college.

While the high levels of interest in postsecondary education are on par with the MSU study findings, they also reflect a general trend: Michigan 4-H’ers are more likely to attend college than their same-age peers. Recent data from Michigan 4-H records and the National Student Clearinghouse found that 61 percent of 2014 Michigan 4-H seniors enrolled in postsecondary education, compared with 45 percent of their same-age peers. In addition, the data also showed that 4-H alumni were more likely to go to college than their same-age peers in 90 percent of Michigan counties.

“Michigan 4-H provides youth with so many ways to plan for and explore their future,” said Julie Chapin, director of MSU Extension’s children and youth programs. “Whether that’s attending college or becoming a leader in the STEM field, we can help them develop the skills and create a plan for achieving their dreams.”

To learn more about Michigan 4-H’s precollege programs or Michigan 4-H in general, visit

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