It may have been a bit foggy in Henningsen Lotus Park last Saturday, but nothing could dampen the spirits of the 4-H SET youths who gathered to get a lesson in geology and, in particular, fossils.
Led by project leader Danielle Fisher, 45, of Greenwood, the youths went through a series of hands-on experiments including simulating how resin, dripping from trees, trapped and preserved insects a hundred million years ago. They also examined fossils on loan from the Eureka Gems & Mineral shop in Placerville, viewed a collection of dinosaur bones and dung, and went on a fossil fuel scavenger hunt.
Participating in all these activities were an energetic group of youngsters, including Fisher’s son, Joshua, while many of the youngster’s parents looked on.
Tracy Celio, who is the 4-H youth development coordinator for the program in El Dorado County, was also there along with her 9-year-old son, Carlo.
“We have great schools,”said Celio, “but they don’t have much hands-on experiential learning any more,” she said. She noted the SET program is meant to remedy a declining proficiency in science, engineering, and technology by giving youths more learning opportunities that hopefully lead to their pursuing careers in those areas.
“Our country used to be cutting edge but we’ve lost that in the last 10-15 years due to the outsourcing of jobs and technology,” she said. “Now there is a push to re-energize youth about the opportunities through SET. We want to prepare kids for the 21st century and the jobs available in the 21st century.”
Launched in El Dorado County last September, Celio said, “4-H has always had science-based projects in the past, but they focused on certain subjects such as animal husbandry. The new program has more emphasis on SET topics.”
The coordinator said youths sign up for the program at the beginning of the year. For $35 they can participate in as many projects as they want during the year. “We want 4-H to be accessible for everyone,” she said. “That’s why the fees are so low. We offer projects of interest to everyone.”
Projects run from September to May. Every project is led by a volunteer from the community and often that volunteer also has a child in the program. Typically programs meet six times, but some groups meet more often. Projects include geology, robotics, woodworking, rocketry, animal science, archery, dog training, arts and crafts, gardening, and other subjects as suggested by the youths.
Both 4-H and the SET program are sponsored by the University of California Cooperative Extension, which provides the majority of its funding as well as cutting edge research.
Insects, robotics, and dinosaurs – oh my
Even though the SET program has only been in operation a short time, it has already shown how it can nourish an interest in the sciences.
For example, 13-year-old Ashley Petrie of Placerville has used the program to pursue her interest in multiple areas, including geology, reptiles, archery, and entomology. “I love bugs. I love creepy things,” she said. “I like the SET program because it’s hands-on and I learn new things.”
Other youths are engaged in the rocketry program. Evan Shipman, who lives in Shingle Springs, has his 6-year-old son in the program as does Catherine Purciel, of El Dorado, whose 11-year old son is enrolled in both robotics and rocketry.
Purciel said some youths buy kits and others build their rockets from scratch. “It’s a lot of fun to see it go up and if it crashes, to understand why.” She said they did 50 launches at their last meeting.
17-year-old Jacob Gray took what he learned about geographical information systems in SET to map where all the 4-H clubs are in El Dorado County. Then he created a Website with the information. People can visit the Website at ucanr.edu/sites/EDC_4-H_Program/Community_Clubs/ to find out what different activities or projects are offered at each club.
Carlo Celio applied what he learned about robotics to put together a 10-minute PowerPoint presentation on what youths in El Dorado County are doing in the way of robotics.
He gave that presentation last October to a group of Lockheed Martin employees at the NASA Ames Research Center. As a result, he helped the county 4-H program earn a $1,000 grant plus another $250 for his presentation. The money will go towards buying kits for the robotics program.
Another strong supporter of 4-H SET is 14-year-old Emily Gudeman of El Dorado who comes from a long line of rock hounds. On Saturday she showed everyone a special gift she received from her grandparents. Her grandmother had previously found some dinosaur bones and had carved them into the shapes of different dinosaurs. Enclosed in a glass case, they were an instant hit.
Gudeman also said she traveled to Japan last year as a result of a 4-H cultural exchange program. While there she had a chance to tour old and new Japan, study its history, culture and language and get to know the Japanese family she lived with for four weeks. When she returned, she gave a presentation before the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors on the exchange program.
Gudeman said that while 4-H started out as a hobby, it had opened new doors for her. “I’m more confident and have developed my leadership skills,” she confided. “I never would have guessed they would have come out of me. I have also met wonderful people.”
Partnering with the community
Hoping to expand the program and make it even more state of the art, Celio said she is setting up partnerships with local science, engineering and technology businesses so youths can tour their facilities.
They already have a partnership with Shilling Robotics which has a fabrication plant in Shingle Springs. Youths from the local program were also able to visit the Caltrans Materials Lab, where they had the opportunity to see how the retrofit of the Bay Bridge was done, including testing the strength of beams used in the retrofit. Celio said one of the tests the youths got to perform was the pressure at which steel would break.
Intel is another company they will be touring in the future. The corporation has already helped the SET program by providing instructional assistance to project leaders on how to teach robotics to young people.
Celio said she is very proud of 4-H, which has been in California for 100 years and is celebrating its centennial this year. She sees the SET program as an important addition to 4-H in better preparing American’s youth for the future.
For those wanting more information or to sign up for 4-H SET, they can contact Tracy Celio at 530-621-5507, email her at [email protected] or visit their Website at http://cecentralsierra.ucanr.edu.
Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or [email protected] Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.