Members of the UConn Chemistry Club work with Adventures in STEM Conference participants in the electric fruit workshop.

Members of the UConn Chemistry Club work with Adventures in STEM Conference participants in the electric fruit workshop.

The 2016 4-H Adventures in STEM Conference, held November 5, was designed to engage youth ages 12 to 18 in STEM learning, as well as introduce the students to UConn and STEM careers. This year’s conference hosted sixty-six youth attending a variety of workshops primarily designed and run by UConn student groups.

“After our first student workshop with the Engineering Ambassadors was so successful, I discovered there are a lot of STEM-related student organizations on campus,” says Nancy Wilhelm, program coordinator Cooperative Extension System (CES).

Since the first workshop four years ago, Wilhelm has recruited additional student presenters. “I invite them to the conference, and they design their entire workshop. They are young and enthusiastic, so the kids relate to them. UConn students are very knowledgeable in their subject matter and are very good at gearing the material toward the youth age level. Both the hosts and the participants enjoy the workshops.”

The UConn students provided a wide array of workshops this year including:

Members of the UConn Drone Club and 4-H STEM participants watch a drone in flight.

Members of the UConn Drone Club and 4-H STEM participants watch a drone in flight.

Other presenters included Maria Hoffman, postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Animal Science, with “Evaluating Tissues and Cells,” and Kendra Maas, academic assistant in the Biotech/Bioservices Center, with “Microbes! The Vast Diversity All Around and Inside of Us.”

“I think the students are looking for meaningful things to do with their clubs. It’s a great opportunity for them to teach and present, and they have fun in the process. They do a great job,” notes Wilhelm.

Bonnie Burr, head of the Department of Extension, involves UConn students in as many outreach opportunities as possible. For instance, during a recent meeting Burr was approached by a nonprofit group seeking to develop a strategic plan for walking trails. She suggested that students in the Drone Club might be able to provide an overview of the property and existing trails.

“The predominant focus for our outreach on campus is to include students in the activities Extension performs in the community, in addition to providing career opportunities,” Burr points out. “That has been our push with involving student clubs.”

She goes on to say, “We have phenomenal connections in the community through Extension. That’s where we reside, that’s where we run our programs. Every time we go out into the community, it might open a door for students, from engaging student clubs to providing internships and work study opportunities.”

Burr explains that the University is seeking ways to help students build a network of connections that might lead to employment after graduation. These outreach opportunities help students build skills sets employers are seeking.

Recently, Burr sat in a meeting with a potential employer. The business executive mentioned that he was having a difficult time finding employees with verbal communication skills.

“By taking these students off campus and into community programs, they begin to understand the value of developing a comfort level outside of their college social circle,” Burr says. “The students build their skills and their network, while people in our communities benefit from these programs.”

Burr goes on to say that these student opportunities continue after students graduate. “We find that when our students become successful, they pay it forward and provide new opportunities for the next generation of students.”

By Kim Colavito Markesich