Youth Making a Difference for the Environment

Brian McNeill, U of MN Extenion Educator

August 2017

What happens when you bring youth and adults together to make a difference in their community? You have a group of people who are concerned about their natural resources and want to take action. Youth Development offered a training for 4-H Aquatic Robotic teams to provide them with more resources, education and tools to educate around aquatic invasive species.

STEM is a priority program area for Minnesota 4-H Youth Development with faculty who are involved in research, evaluation, and teaching related to out-of-school STEM learning for youth.  4-H is one of the largest youth programs in the state with over 123,000 youth participating in clubs, camps and adventures.  Youth participate in non-formal learning experiences in groups and clubs that meet in a variety of out-of-school time settings, with programming in every region and county of Minnesota. 

Through 4-H Aquatics Robotics youth have the opportunities to become more civically-engaged and scientifically-grounded young people.  Many of today’s most difficult challenges require both innovation and scientific approaches to address them in new ways.  4-H Aquatic Robotics is designed to assess the power of combining an engaged and inquiring mind with new technology to generate real world solutions to real problems. 

A level two training was created by the 4-H Aquatic Robotics team including Extension Educators Brian McNeill, Patrick Jirik, Margo Bowerman and 4-H program coordinator Suzanne Souza, and new partners including staff from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and staff from Minnesota’s Sea Grant housed in Duluth. This training was developed for existing 4-H Aquatic Robotics teams who were trained in the build of the Seaperch remote operated vehicle (ROV) and who have been active in their communities. Five teams from five counties (including one from South Dakota) participated in this first of its kind event.  The event was held at Arrowwood Conference Center, near Alexandria on Lake Darling to provide a quality hands on educational experience.  Funding to provide this high quality learning experience was provided by Pentair a water filtration company in Minnesota. 

Youth exploring invasive speciesAquatic Invasive Species Program Director, Doug Jensen from Minnesota Sea Grant and AIS Prevention Planner, Tina Wolbers from the MN DNR provided the hands on education for the participants. From identifying aquatic plants and aquatic animals to real life identification on Lake Darling, these two experts provided a high level education experience for the youth and adults who attended the training. Evaluations have shown a high level of learning and a deeper understating of aquatic invasive species from the participants. Evaluation data also supports the increased level of teams comfort to provide quality education to the citizens in their communities. 

STEM learning is a high priority for 4-H Youth Development. The program aims to provide experiences for youth that will increase their interest in science, create change in their community, their science knowledge and their interest in working in a STEM career.

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