Project Pathway

4-H sees science, technology as crucial to building competitive workforce

By Jim Erickson

Editor’s note:This article is reprinted,
from the January issue of “AFC
Cooperative Farming News,” the member
publication of the Alabama Farmers
Cooperative, one of the many farmer co-ops
across the nation that support youth
organizations such as 4-H and FFA.
Erickson is a freelance writer based in
Missouri who has worked for several of the
nation’s major farmer co-ops.

ore than a half-century ago, the launch of the Sputnik satellite by the former USSR sparked a dramatic increase in the number of U.S. students opting for studies and, ultimately, careers in science, math and engineering.

Today, nearly a decade into a new century, the importance of those fields has increased. But as challenges in biotechnology, alternative energy, genetics and other fields have come to the forefront, members of the Sputnikinspired generation of scientists and engineers are retiring. And experts say replacements aren’t coming fast enough to maintain the nation’s technology leadership in the future.

Agricultural science is a notable case in point due to its diverse impact on so many aspects of people’s lives, both here and throughout the world. Everything from the foods we eat and clothes we wear to the fuels we use have a link to agriculture.

With that reality in mind, and with its decades of experience with and commitment to America’s young people, the national 4-H Youth Development Program has embarked on Project Pathways, a research-based learning system for youth ages 9 to 19. To be available online and in CD sets, the new program is designed to take advantage of how young people learn and communicate today.

Early exposure is crucial Inventive new 4-H out-of-school programming, such as Project Pathways, will allow youth to be exposed to, and engaged in, the sciences earlier in life. This approach has been shown to motivate youth to pursue a career in the sciences as adults, notes Donald T. Floyd, Jr., National 4-H Council president and CEO.

A look at some key education statistics underscores the need for the Pathways initiative: The clear conclusion is that if America is unable to keep up with the increasing demand for professionals trained in science, engineering and other technological fields, it faces a daunting task of competing effectively in today’s global marketplace.

4-H is positioned to play a key role in encouraging young people to develop an interest in science and engineering. The 4-H mission says that the organization “empowers youth to reach their full potential, working and learning in partnership with caring adults.”

Achieving that goal involves a team effort that includes the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 106 landgrant universities and the National 4-H Council. The end result is what ranks today as America’s largest youth organization, encompassing some 6 million young people, 4,500 4-H educators, 500,000 volunteers and 60 million alumni.

Going digital
With Pathways, 4-H has set aggressive targets of fostering 1 million new scientists and 1 million new ideas. It will assess progress toward those targets by measuring literacy in ag science, engineering and technology (SET), the number of ag SET majors and the number of college graduates pursuing ag SET careers.

In designing the Pathways effort, 4- H leaders recognized that the organization faced a number of challenges, including greater demand for 4-H project materials, the need to respond rapidly to changes in ag science, today’s tech-savvy youth and the need to connect with a larger community of learners.

The obvious solution: Going digital and making materials available online. Work now under way aims to offer a curriculum with some 1,000 learning activities dealing with cutting-edge plant and animal science content.

A “Project Builder” interface will enable prospective users to find the content-driven activity they want to pursue. Projects will be customizable according to a user’s age, where he/she lives, the identity of any sponsor(s) supporting a particular activity, etc.

According to Roger Olson, 4-H Council vice president of rural and agribusiness development, the number of possible combinations will be virtually unlimited.

Project activities will be entered and tracked in a "V-Book," an online virtual project book replacing printed project and record books.

Overall, the online content will provide a blueprint for self-guided learning, with additional information including online videos, accessible to enrich the learning experience. Questions a user will be asked to answer will reinforce important concepts in each project.

In addition, a protected online community at the 4-H website will provide opportunities for social networking, free online collaboration with subject matter experts and a searchable database of relevant project information from land-grant universities and industry sponsors.

Online goal: late 2011
Partnerships developed with sponsors and other content providers will affect how the ultimate cost in dollars and man hours will be borne. But there’s no doubt it will be a multimillion-dollar project involving many thousands of staff hours.

According to Dr. Bob Horton, professor of educational design at Ohio State University and chief architect of the Pathways initiative, the development plan timetable is for the initial content to be completed and online by late 2011, assuming all necessary funding is obtained. Updating will be continuous after the Pathways debut.

Olson noted industry sponsors will be able to gain added visibility by providing branded online content such as “Ask the Expert,” simulations and moderated chats, podcasts, news tickers and blog centers and tracking and reporting journals.

“Project Pathways will be designed to accommodate, inspire and empower a wide variety of learners,” Horton said. “This is the first time the efforts of industry, academia and youth development are combining to create a robust curriculum blending the latest interactive online programming with offline, hands-on work alongside passionate, expert mentors.”

AFC sees 4-H, FFA as key to future of ag

The Alabama Farmers Cooperative and its member Quality Co-op stores have had a long-standing relationship with the youth of 4-H and FFA. This manifests through sponsorships of events, trips, a youth scholarship program and financial support for students who participate in state and local livestock shows and other agricultural competitions.

Each month, an article written by representatives of 4-H and FFA is published in the co-op’s newspaper, “AFC Cooperative Farming News,” which salutes the accomplishments of each organization’s young people.

“The youth of Alabama who venture a future in agriculture are our destiny, and we will continue to do what we can to bring their endeavors to fruition,” says Jim Allen, editor-in-chief of “AFC Cooperative Farming News.”

With Pathways, 4-H
has set aggressive
targets of fostering
1 million new scientists
and 1 million new

May/June Table of Contents