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Rutgers 4-H Summer Science Program Helps Kids Prepare For Careers in STEM and College

4-H Program Creates Ambassadors Who Give Back to Their Communities
4-H Program
Students learn about science, technology, engineering, and math in this summer's Rutgers 4-H science program. Chad Ripberger

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ–The Rutgers University 4-H Summer Science program took place on July 10-14 on the university's Cook Campus.

The program is designed to enrich young people’s interest and competency in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), as well as develop "ambassadors," who share their experience and knowledge of STEM topics and campus life with other students in their hometown.

Since its start almost a decade ago, the 4-H Summer Science Program has moved away from their initial model of 90-minute workshops and instead focuses on more interaction between students and faculty or mentors and implementation of skills through labs and on field experience.

The trickle-down effect from this program showcases just how valuable access can really be, with high-achieving young people who are underrepresented in STEM fields becoming ambassadors and giving back to the community.

The 4-H Summer Science Program promotes hands-on experience where students can put their knowledge toward real-life applications.

Some students working on an environmental science project were able to go to the Livingston Nature Preserve and take samples and go back to a lab to map the data.

The intensive week included outlining their potential career pathways in STEM fields, roundtable discussions and panels with faculty and admissions staff, and concludes with a poster presentation.

“A valuable part of the program is identity in which students are able to identify themselves as the STEM person, a scientist or an engineer,” said one of the 4-H Agents Chad Ripberger.

Not only does the program expose participants to a broad range of STEM disciplines, but also it is dedicated to enhancing their comfortability and awareness of college life.

One of the program's main goals is to help participants become the first in their family to go to college.

Students are able to get a better sense of what their potential college career could be like through the unique experience of a scavenger hunt within academic buildings on Cook Campus, and a student panel with current Rutgers undergraduates discussing topics ranging from housing to scholarships.

The latter end of the week is focused on how the students can succeed as an ambassador.

“Every year we have 6 or 8 excelling students who were in the program a year ago to return and be a mentor. The ambassadors give presentations on what they have done since last summer and provides the students with the expectation of what it looks like if you are doing that kind of outreach well,” said Ripberger.

According to data collected by the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station in 2015, the 4-H Summer Science program has a multitude of long-term benefits for the individual participants and their local communities.

When surveyed, 70% of participants felt their involvement in the program better prepared them for college and out of those past participants who were current college students, 59% are enrolled in STEM majors or are interested in a STEM career.

After participating in the program, many have also engaged in county level programming to give back in New Jersey's cities.