UConn 4-H Brings High Tech to Connecticut Youth


When you think of 4-H programs, robotics might not be the first thing that comes to mind.

In existence for over 100 years, 4-H programs have historically introduced farming communities to new technologies or approaches through youth development. The “head, heart, hands and health” embedded in its name has expanded in recent decades to include more science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs , such as robotics.

Recently, several UConn 4-H robotics teams competed nationally in the 2022 FIRST Championship and the 2022 VEX World Championship, both held in Texas.

Reaching national competitions is no easy task, says Jennifer Cushman, UConn Extension educator and co-lead of the UConn 4-H program.

“The annual robotics competition requires team members to work together to build and construct a robot over the course of eight weeks, Cushman explains. “These students not only gain invaluable skills for their future, but they also have the opportunity to compete against teams around the world. It’s not your shared image of what it means to participate in 4-H, but that’s exactly the kind of development we provide for young people.

UConn 4-H started its robotics program in 2006, when Al and Barbara Bishop of Bishops Orchards in Guilford gave a gift. The Bishops were UConn alumni and strongly believed that STEM and 4-H go hand in hand.

The challenge for the FIRST 2022 competition consisted of a 15-second autonomous period in which the robots operated according to pre-programmed instructions to score points by rolling from their tarmac, retrieving and marking their assigned cargo in the hub. Later, the robot team drivers take control of the robots and score points by picking up their assigned cargo and engaging with their hangar. One UConn 4-H team placed 2nd in its division at the World Championship, while another placed 5th in its division. 4-H teams have also won several design and engineering awards to recognize their achievements.

Although STEM is one of the three mission areas of 4-H, the goal is also to give young participants the opportunity to meet other people, have fun and prepare for potential future careers. in the technology sector.

“This season has been a learning experience that has taught me a lot of things beyond mechanical skills,” said Reid, a participant from Southington.

The 4-H robotics program wouldn’t be possible without the support of dedicated volunteers, Cushman says. One volunteer, Bill Smith of the Operation PEACCE Robotics team, explained that he felt he had earned as much as his young participants.

“The most rewarding part of this season was having the students work together, collaborating on their ideas, testing them and iterating them through to the final design. Then, as the season progressed, learning from successful things as less successful, [and] make changes as needed.

Initially, Smith planned to volunteer a few hours of his time to work with the participants. However, as he says, “I had no idea how much I was going to help these children, spend hundreds of hours. Finally, bring my own children.

While all the participants are still celebrating their victories, everyone involved in the UConn 4-H robotics program already has their eyes on the future, whether it’s future competitions or the future potential of the young people involved. .

“That’s the core of 4-H’s mission, from positively mentoring young adults to growing young people,” says Cushman. “It’s about looking and moving forward for the benefit of the communities we serve.”

UConn 4-H is UConn Extension’s youth development program with the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources (CAHNR). As part of the University of Connecticut, 4-H has access to research-based, age-appropriate information needed to help young people reach their full potential. The mission of 4-H is to help all young people between the ages of 5 and 18 acquire knowledge, develop their leadership and life skills while forming attitudes that will enable them to become autonomous, productive and contributing members. of their family and community. For more information about UConn 4-H, please visit s.uconn.edu/4-H.

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