Do the words "4-H" conjure visions of kids with cows and baking contests? That was my vision five or six years ago, when the 4-H council began talking to the Noyce Foundation about their work in non-formal science education. It turns out that since the beginning, 4-H kids have been learning and sharing science, from animal science to food safety to the myriad projects they're involved in today: rocketry, geocaching, robotics, hydroponic gardening, monitoring water quality, wind power, and much more.
4-H is the largest youth organization in the country. They have an outreach agent in every county in the country, and each land grant university has a 4-H office that works on curriculum, coordination, and evaluation. Six million kids a year participate in 4-H clubs, camps, in-school and after-school programs. With a careful blend of youth development, mentoring, and content, 4-H prepares kids to be leaders in their communities. Longitudinal research confirms that the program increases positive outcomes for kids.
Now 4-H has taken on its Million Minds challenge. The goal is to get one million new kids involved in science programs, to engage them, improve their attitudes toward science and increase their knowledge, so that many more of them will choose science careers, from forestry to renewable energy to mechanical engineering.
At the national 4-H science leadership conference I just attended, I met state and county agents from all over the country working on curriculum, professional development plans for their volunteers, evaluation, and fund development. Asked to say a few words about why the Noyce Foundation supports 4-H science, I referred to five key strengths of 4-H: Their visionary and distributed leadership; their firm principles of positive youth development; their willingness to partner with other youth and science organizations; their unrivaled reach and scale; and the incredible dedication of their staff and volunteers.
There are a lot more 4-H graduates serving out there as leaders in our country than most of us realize. I just learned yesterday that Drew Faust, president of Harvard, raised large animals with 4-H as a girl. So to all of you involved in 4-H, now or in the past, I salute you. You do great work.