4-H, UVM looks at U.S. science crisis

BURLINGTON-As the future becomes increasingly technology dependent and global science competition becomes ever more intense, the United States faces a potential shortage of scientists. Only 18 percent of U.S. high school seniors are proficient in science according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Only 5 percent of current U.S. college graduates have earned science, engineering, or technology degrees compared to 66 percent in Japan and 59 percent in China.

Looking at these statistics, the national 4-H Youth Development Program is tapping the resources of the 106 land grant universities and colleges of the Cooperative Extension System. In Vermont, the University of Vermont Extension is piloting the 4-H Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) program to excite youth about science careers.

Nationally and in Vermont, Extension programming has brought agricultural science, electricity, mechanics, entrepreneurship, and natural sciences careers to young people's attention. Today, 4-H out-of-school opportunities also open the door to subjects such as rocketry, robotics, global positioning, renewable energy, and computer science with hands-on learning experiences.

The goal of 4-H SET is to inspire 1 million young people nationally and 3,000 in Vermont on the path of excelling in science, engineering, and technology by 2013. At its 2008 launch in Vermont, 4-Hers in Burlington and at a statewide teen leadership meeting in Fairlee took part in the 1st annual 4-H National Youth Science Day experiment, using a disposable diaper, zip-lock bag, newspaper, and tap water to learn about hydrogel technology and water conservation secrets.

For this year's 4-H National Youth Science Day experiment in October, 4-H has designed "Biofuel Blast," a hands-on experiment to introduce young people all around the nation to biofuels. Youth will become a scientist for the day, discovering how ordinary household products can create alternative energy, how that fuel can power many of the things we use each day and participate in a national youth debate to discuss the "best" biofuel based on experiment outcomes. Young people will be able to see how their small creations are part of a major current nationwide discussion. Youth will also be engaged before, during and after the experiment via several popular communication mechanisms, including cell phone text messages, Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, and through the 4-H.org website.

In 4-H, children learn leadership, citizenship and life skills through more than 1,000 projects with topics as varied as pets and farm animals, rocketry, digital mapping, computer game design, public speaking, photography, nutrition and community service.

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