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4-H Youth Explore Their Interests on the UMass Campus with Explore UMass Program

4H Youth experimenting in food science lab learning how to make gummy worms from scratch.
June 27, 2023

The 4-H Explore UMass Program took place June 25 to June 27 this year, providing thirty-five 4-H youth ages 12 to 16 with the opportunity to explore their interests and UMass academic programs. 4-H Youth and staff gather together.

Youth participated in one of four tracks: Health Science, Veterinary Science, Food Science and Urban Design. The tracks were led by UMass professors, Margaret Curnin (Health Science), Amanda Kinchla (Food Science), Michael DiPasquale (Urban Design) and 4-H Extension Educator Carrie Chickering-Sears (Veterinary Science).

4-H Extension Educator, program organizer and statewide Science Engineering and Technology Liaison Kim Pond said that the goal of Explore UMass is to get kids thinking about their interests, their future, and things they haven’t explored before. “Some of them are just starting to think about college and part of the program is to expose them to that,” she said. 

The program 

Pond has been organizing the Explore UMass program since its inception as a day-long program in 2007. In 2009, it became an overnight program, which ran until 2019 before being interrupted by the pandemic. This is the first year the kids are staying overnight in the dorms since the pandemic. 

Sunday night, kids from all over the state came together and engaged in icebreaker activities to get to know each other.Youth on the Food Science track.  

On Monday, youth split into their selected tracks. Food Science Extension Professor, Amanda Kinchla demonstrated how gummy worms were made in a lab. Youth got to mix different ingredients, experiment, and learn about the chemistry of food science.

4-H Youth working and talking to program staff. 4-H Extension Educator Carrie Chickering-Sears brought youth to the Equine Research and Education Farm in Hadley, where they got hands-on experience with the animals, learned veterinary care science and how to take animals’ vital signs.

Youth in the urban design track had the opportunity to work with Extension Associate Professor of Regional Planning Michael DiPasquale. DiPasquale, who is a licensed Architect, gave students a tour of several new buildings and public spaces on campus. During stops at the Bromery Center for the Arts and the Design Building, students were encouraged to note the importance of designing the built environment in ways that promote social interaction and inclusion.

Later, as part of a "hands-on" afternoon session, Michael worked with students to design and build cardboard models of new designs for modular housing, calling attention to the worldwide need to address homelessness.

The nursing track, led by Assistant Professor of Nursing Margaret Curnin, learned how to use medical equipment to take patient vital signs. Youth were able to use the simulation lab at UMass Youth on the Urban Design track working together to design a building. and utilize the interactive sims to assess different medical scenarios and how to handle them.  Youth assessing the condition of a sim at the nursing simulation lab.

In the evening, all youth were introduced to ozobots, which are pocket-sized programmable robots.  This fun activity exposed youth to coding and computational thinking. 

Learning from the Summer Scholars 

For the first time this year, CAFE Summer Scholars facilitated activities for the kids. The Summer Scholars Program offers paid, summer internships for UMass Amherst undergraduate students who have the unique opportunity to make significant contributions that advance the design, implementation and goals of an existing research or extension project.  Projects reflect the broad portfolio of programs supported by CAFE and students spend their summer in faculty research laboratories, offices and field stations, as well as in communities where extension professionals are engaged directly with citizens.

The Summer Scholars spent only a few hours with the youth on Tuesday morning, but they made the most of their time. 

Erica Light, Summer Scholars Program Coordinator, described the hands-on activities that the scholars facilitated. For the urban design track, they organized an activity where kids used cups and straws to build a water irrigation system. Summer Scholars London Cross and Nicole Perry led a tour of the Integrated Sciences Building and chemistry labs, followed by an activity where youth made lava lamps to take home. 

Scholars offered a tour of the Franklin Permaculture garden, the Morrill Greenhouses, the campus pond, and the art installation of the Berlin Wall. The art piece, titled “The Power of Creativity over Concrete” is a section of the Berlin Wall painted by famed French artist Thierry Noir and was installed on the UMass campus this spring. By showing 4-H Youth this historic art installation, they were given a glimpse into the cruel history of Germany and the revolutionary spirit of those who were brave enough to tear the wall down. Summer Scholars give the youth a tour of campus, stopping at the historic art installation of the Berlin Wall.

Youth on the veterinary science track also had the opportunity to tour the veterinary science research lab. Summer Scholar Sean Young reflected on his time with the youth, saying “Witnessing the children’s enthusiasm and curiosity was truly rewarding… We hope that the experience will inspire them to continue seeking knowledge, exploring their surroundings and embracing discovery.” 

Light emphasized how important it is that the Summer Scholars see the value of connecting youth and diverse groups of people to science through outreach. 

“I hope to have summer scholars participate in the Explore UMass program event again next year,” Light said. She is also looking forward to working on other activities with 4-H in order to develop the Summer Scholars’ youth outreach. 

Youth Development and 4-H
Community & Economic Vitality