In the United States, a small percentage of U.S. college graduates earn science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees. However, an increased demand exists for professionals in these fields. Michigan 4-H Youth Development strives to encourage interest in STEM.
4-H Discovery Camp is just one of the ways they’ve succeeded. The camp, which took place June 24‒28, gives young people an opportunity to become acquainted with the natural resources and agriculture industry in Michigan as both relate to current issues and technologies affecting energy and the environment.
The five-day exploration experience’s home base is Michigan State University where attendees stayed in dorms and experienced campus life.
The MSU campus offered a wealth of experiences for the kids who ranged in age from 13 to 19.
Attendees toured campus labs to see the cutting-edge research revolving around energy for the future. They explored the MSU Recycling facilities to learn about the impact recycling has on energy and the environment.
Participants also took part in their own “Bio Blast” bioenergy experiments at MSU’s Shaw Hall.
At MSU’s Farrall Agriculture Engineering Hall, they had the opportunity to make biodiesel from agriculture products, and compare and calculate energy density. They even took a sample of it home at the close of camp. Campers visited MSU’s woody biomass plantation where Paul Bloese, an MSU forestry research assistant, taught them how wood products are used for energy. They visited the Anaerobic Digestion Research and Education Center to learn about anaerobic digestion research and impacts on energy. Then back at Farrall Hall, they visited with Dr. Christopher Saffron, assistant professor of biosystems and agricultural engineering, who spoke about his ongoing research in bioenergy.
However, attendees didn’t restrict their scientific exploration to East Lansing. They had the opportunity to visit the W. K. Kellogg Biological Station where they collected data at research plots. At the Carbon Green BioEnergy ethanol plant, they toured the facilities, met the staff and discussed energy use and impacts. Other visits included the W.K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary, the Dow/Cobblestone Builders Net Zero House, the Midland Center for the Arts and the Gratiot County Wind Farm.
Throughout the week, campers took part in a solar car engineering challenge in which they designed, built and raced their own solar cars.
This is the fourth year 4-H has offered the camp. Though it was canceled the second year, due to low enrollment, word has gotten out. This year, more than 75 youth applied for the camp that has the capacity to admit 45 campers.
In a survey of last year’s attendees, more than 90 percent of respondents said that they are more likely to pursue a degree or career in a bioenergy-related field following the completion of 4-H Discovery Camp. It looks like the camp puts kids on the path to a science-related future.
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