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Ready, 4-H SET, Go!

The Issue

The United States is at pivotal point in its history. Despite our nation’s rich legacy of innovation and global contributions, we are facing declining proficiencies in science, engineering, and technology (SET). Too many of our youth lack the SET literacy needed for careers in the 21st century. Nationwide, only 18 percent of high school seniors are considered proficient in science while a mere 5 percent of all 24-year-olds earn undergraduate degrees in the natural sciences and engineering.

The 4-H Science, Engineering, and Technology (SET) Initiative is the 4-H program’s response to our nation’s and state’s concerns for improving human capacity and workforce abilities in these fields. It combines nonformal education with hands-on, inquiry-based learning in a youth development context to engage young people in improving their SET knowledge, skills, and abilities. The California 4-H SET Initiative aims to impact 150,000 new youth members and 15,000 new adult volunteers over the next five years through innovative SET programming.

What Has ANR Done?

The California 4-H SET Initiative has established specific goals around three critically important areas: Program Development and Design, Professional Development, and Curriculum Development. Central to the state’s 4-H SET Initiative is building the system’s capacity through these areas in order to implement 4-H SET programming with diverse youth audiences by means of a continuum of delivery modes using a variety of research-based methods.

A Kick-Off Conference was held at UC Davis in September 2008 to officially launch the California 4-H SET Initiative. The focus of the two-day event was to introduce county-based 4-H academics and staff to the 4-H SET Initiative and explore project ideas and potential collaborations. Participants engaged in interactive sessions, identified strategies for developing local SET plans, and met with and discussed possible partnerships with campus units, community organizations, and agencies. Included among these potential partners were: The UC Davis Institute for Transportation Technology; the Explorit Science Center; the UC Davis Arboretum; the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine; The UC Davis Children’s Garden Program; and the California Department of Forestry.

The Payoff

4-H SET Kick-Off Conference Hits Its Mark!

Sixty county-based 4-H academics and program staff representing 46 counties attended the two-day conference. The event was successful in helping participants understand how to develop and implement SET projects and programs at the county level. One hundred percent of participants responding to the post-conference survey indicated that they came away with a solid understanding of the 4-H SET Initiative, while 91 percent of the respondents said the conference was beneficial in helping them develop the knowledge and skills necessary to establish collaborations in order to design and promote the SET Initiative locally.

Survey results also provided the State 4-H SET Leadership Team with valuable information to help plan statewide activities. Pre/post-survey data revealed that participants were most interested in working on the SET Initiative in their counties with upper elementary (80%), middle school (74%), and high school-aged youth (75%), and that there was interest in exploring novel volunteer development approaches at the county level, including action research/lesson study (75%) and distance learning (57%).

Additionally, results identified the need for training around specific SET content areas. For example, although there was a strong knowledge and experience base among participants in the area of food science (75%), other content areas were much weaker, including technology and engineering (21%), and earth and space science (16%). These findings will assist the California 4-H SET Leadership Team in developing future professional development opportunities.

Clientele Testimonial

“This conference offered new approaches to build on what we [are currently doing in our counties], as well as creating new things to help solidify the [SET] initiative.”

“The field trips gave us ideas on collaborations and how to design systems to bring people into new projects.”


Martin H. Smith, CE Specialist, Veterinary Medicine Extension
Lynn Schmitt-McQuitty, 4-H Youth Development Advisor, Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties
Richard L. Mahacek, 4-H Youth Development Advisor, Merced County
Sharon K. Junge, Acting State Director, California 4-H Youth Development Program