Tag Archives: judy ratkos

JOE: Opportunity to share knowledge, programming

The Journal of Extension (JOE) is the official refereed journal of the U.S. Cooperative Extension System. The acceptance rate for articles is 27.8 percent. Most submissions undergo double-blind review. Contributing to JOE is a great way for Extension staff to engage in scholarly publication.

I’m proud of the fact that Michigan State University Extension boasts two articles in the August 2015 issue.

The Case for a Paradigm Shift in Extension From Information-Centric to Community-Centric Programming” was written by Emma Strong, graduate research assistant; Jason Rowntree, associate professor in the Department of Animal Science; Kable Thurlow, Extension educator in the Agriculture and Agribusiness Institute; and Matt R. Raven, professor in the Department of Community Sustainability. In the article, the authors assert that the current Extension paradigm of information-centric programming is no longer adequate and Extension should move toward one that is community centric.

College Transition Study Shows 4-H Helps Youth Prepare for and Succeed in College” was written by Judy Ratkos, senior program leader (now retired), and former research assistant Lauren Knollenberg. The article gives the results of a study that showed 4-H alumni rated significantly higher than the comparison group on six life skills constructs.

The publication is a rich resource of the work being done around the country by our Extension colleagues. If you’re not reading it, you’re missing out. If you’re not publishing in it, you may want to.

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Presenting our curricula on a national level

Several Michigan State University Extension staff members shared their knowledge and expertise with the national 4-H community at the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents (NAE4-HA) Conference held October 26‒30 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This was a great opportunity for MSU Extension to expand our reach to a nationwide audience of our peers.

Deb Barrett, Frank Cox and Janice Zerbe presented on the Career Exploration and Workforce Preparation work group’s National 4-H curriculum “Build Your Future: Choices… Connections… Careers.” Health and nutrition experts Janet Olsen and Karen Pace presented “Be SAFE” – to help addressing bullying in 4-H and other out-of-school settings. Judy Ratkos and Jennifer Weichel joined a panel conversation on using data to creatively make the case for 4-H, and Kendra Moyses, Betty Jo Nash and Jodi Schulz presented “Back to the Basics” – life skills curriculum packages to help 4-H leaders increase their impact. Three staff members, Christine Heverly, Glenda Kilpatrick and Janice Zerbe, were also recognized at the event for their service to Michigan 4-H.

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Designer’s work reflects 4-H magic

In a recent Spotlight, I featured 4-H Exploration Days and the fact that it’s been going on for 44 years. Every year, Michigan State University Extension 4-H Youth Development staff, led by senior program leader Judy Ratkos, put their heads together and think of a theme for the event. And every year since 1984, Marian Reiter, graphic artist in Agriculture and Natural Resources Communications, comes up with a design to go with that theme. Her design is used on the 4-H Exploration Days website, on the activity guide and on the T-shirts that participants, staff and volunteers wear to the event.

MSU ANR Communications graphic artist Marian Reiter in one of her 4-H Exploration Days T-shirt designs, poses in front of some of the many T-shirts she designed for the annual event.

Michigan State University Agriculture and Natural Resources Communications graphic artist Marian Reiter wearing one of her 4-H Exploration Days T-shirt designs, poses in front of some of the many T-shirts she designed for the annual event. Photo taken July 1, 2013, by Caitlin Weathers, MSU ANR Communications.

Marian said, “Every year, the T-shirt design goes through intense scrutiny by a review group of 4-H members, volunteers and staff and there are usually several versions before it’s approved. Of all the projects I work on, this one probably has the toughest design critique!”

The first 4-H Exploration Days T-shirt she created featured the theme “Prepare for Tomorrow.” This year’s theme was “Share the magic of 4-H!” Marian came up with a design that reflects that theme. The design appears on the cover of the 2013 4-H Exploration Days Activity Guide (click on the link to see the design) and on a black T-shirt that was quite popular with the attendees.

So next year, when you see more than 2,000 youth and adults on campus wearing 4-H Exploration Days T-shirts, think of Marian and her creative design expertise.


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4-H Exploration Days: The opportunities abound

4-H Exploration Days took place on the Michigan State University campus for the 44th time, June 19‒21. This successful pre-college program is MSU’s largest. More than 2,500 people attended. A little more than 2,000 of those attendees were youth aged 11 to 19 from 77 counties. The event even boasted youth and adult guests from as far away as Poland.

When we talk about a pre-college program, we might be thinking of students sitting in desks in the summertime – not something the average kid dreams of as a way to spend a few precious days of summer. But that could hardly describe 4-H Exploration Days. Attendees this year chose from more than 200 sessions.

Some sessions focused on animal and veterinary science. Besides taking part in hands-on activities such as exploring the inside of goats and caring for horses’ hooves, attendees took field trips to the various MSU teaching and research centers for horses, dairy cattle and sheep as well as the MSU Veterinary Medical Clinic.

Participants also choose from a wealth of other possibilities. They launched rockets, explored emergency service careers at the MSU Fire Station, explored Michigan government and history at the State Capitol and Michigan Historical Museum, and learned about the juvenile justice system. They got creative with sewing and other crafts, writing, singing, dancing, songwriting and performing in theatre. Kids learned to better communicate through sign language, news reporting and public speaking. They delved into entomology, fishing, history, cooking and nutrition. They explored new languages and culture, learned to manage money and studied technology. They got physical with basketball, field hockey, ice skating, running, bowling, archery and volleyball. You get the picture. But just don’t take my word for it. Check out the list of activities here.

As you might imagine, it takes a tremendous amount of time, effort and people to put on an event of this magnitude. Nearly 300 served as session instructors or helpers including adult volunteers, teen volunteers, MSU Extension staff (both on- and off-campus) and outside resource people. Many of the adult volunteers and staff doubled as chaperones in addition to the 167 adults who volunteered to attend as chaperones. The event racked up more than 20,000 volunteer hours this year.

Judy Ratkos, MSU Extension 4-H Youth Development senior program leader and coordinator of 4-H Exploration Days said, “4-H Exploration Days gives youth an authentic collegiate experience, develops important life skills like decision-making and critical thinking, and often sparks college major or career interests. Our participants stay in MSU residence halls and attend classes in their interest. Many are inspired to come to college at MSU because they feel confident here and are excited about all the opportunities MSU offers.”

A special feature this year was the launch of the Samsung Summer Science Program to engage more young people in science and related fields to support future career exploration through inquiry-based science activities. Judy and Extension program leader Jake DeDecker promise to provide more information to counties about this new initiative in the coming month.

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MSU Extension staff member receives CANR Staffer of the Month award

Congratulations to Gail Hebert, Michigan State University Extension Children and Youth Institute office assistant. Gail is the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) Staff Advisory Committee November 2012 Staffer of the Month.

The award goes to a member of the CANR support staff who has done something special or noteworthy within their unit or college.

Extension senior program leader Judy Ratkos nominated Gail for her efficient, thorough assistance with the coordination of the 4-H pre-college programs 4-H Exploration Days and 4-H Great Lakes & Natural Resources Camp. Gail also takes on the tedious task of formatting participant data for all the 4-H pre-college programs and 4-H seniors and submitting them to MSU Admissions and the National Student Clearinghouse. Her important work accurately tracks college attendance rates of 4-H youth.

Thanks to Gail for doing terrific work and to Judy for nominating Gail for this recognition.

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4-H Great Lakes & Natural Resources Camp recognized as one of top 4-H science programs, report on study released

We knew all along that Michigan State University Extension’s 4-H Great Lakes & Natural Resources Camp is a great pre-college program for kids to learn through outdoor hands-on experiences and have fun in the process. Others have noticed as well. In 2008, the annual seven-day camp held on the shores of Lake Huron in Presque Isle, Michigan, was named as a 4-H Program of Distinction. In 2009, it won the National 4-H and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Natural Resources Conservation Education Award.

 In 2011, it was selected out of 70 nominations of promising science programs through a structured process of nominations and vetting as one of eight top science programs in a National 4-H science program in-depth case study. The study was part of the 4-H Youth Development Program’s National Science Initiative evaluation funded by the Noyce Foundation through a grant to National 4-H Council.

A new report was recently released on the case study. “Priming the Pipeline: Lessons from Promising 4-H Science Programs,” written by Derek Riley and Alisha Butler from Policy Studies Associates, features the camp and the seven other selected science programs. It covers practices in the following areas: youth outreach and recruitment, staff and science volunteers, professional development, science curricula and pedagogy, youth development and attitudes toward science, partner organizations and resource support, program evaluation, and program sustainability and scale-up.

Senior program leader Judy Ratkos serves as camp administrator and co-directs the camp with 4-H volunteer Bob Patterson.

Judy said, “It is truly an honor for the staff and volunteers involved in 4-H Great Lakes & Natural Resources Camp to have it recognized as one of the top 4-H science programs in the nation. To have it held up as a model for other youth science programs – both within and outside of 4-H – creates awareness that MSU Extension can help lead the way in increasing science literacy among Michigan young people and increase the number of youth pursuing postsecondary education and careers in science.

“The lessons shared in this newly released report should be helpful to other 4-H science programs striving to be ‘SET Ready.’ A SET Ready 4-H experience is a program that is framed in science, engineering and technology concepts based on SET standards and intentionally targets the development of SET abilities and the outcomes articulated by the 4-H SET Logic Model,” Judy said.

Congratulations to Judy and her team! They inspire the rest of us to make the best even better.

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Volunteers and staff make 4-H Exploration Days possible

It was no surprise that participants at this year’s 4-H Exploration Days June 20 to 22 had a blast and they learned while doing it. During this annual event, kids – and they don’t have to be in 4-H – experience college life, staying in Michigan State University dorms and eating in a dorm cafeteria. They learn by doing (the 4-H way) by attending sessions on various topics from aerospace to visual arts and crafts. Free time allows swimming, skating, souvenir shopping, exploring, bowling, basketball and dancing. It’s a tremendous opportunity for fun and learning jam-packed into three days. It also gives young people a chance to develop social and academic skills needed for a successful transition to college and careers.


But it takes a tremendous amount of work and organization behind the scenes to make MSU’s largest pre-college program a success. Registration for the 43rd annual 4-H Exploration Days closed with 2,404 people from all but one of Michigan’s counties. More than 80 percent of those attending were young people 11 to 19 years old. Adults attending included chaperones, field staff and resource people.

Headed by Judy Ratkos, MSU Extension senior program leader, the event takes months of planning and preparation. More than 300 adult and teen volunteers, outside resource people, and MSU Extension county-based and campus-based staff members served as session instructors or helpers for the 204 sessions offered this summer. Nearly 300 adult volunteers registered as chaperones. It’s estimated that volunteers contributed more than 20,000 hours to this year’s 4-H Exploration Days.

This year, the hot weather did not spoil the fun. According to Judy, staff members and volunteers prepare for the possibility of high heat and humidity, providing water coolers and cups in each dorm lobby and water jugs for outdoor sessions and activities to prevent dehydration.

Besides sessions and activities, inspirational speaker and “Evolution of Dance” performer Judson Laipply spoke and performed his “Evolution of Dance” at the Wharton Center for Performing Arts. The performer also spent time with participants at three 4-H Exploration Days sessions.

A time capsule created at the 4-H Exploration Days in 1987 (some of you may remember that) was opened during the Wharton Center show. That year was the 150th anniversary of Michigan’s becoming a state. The capsule contains an item from almost every Michigan county. Visit the 4-H Exploration Days Facebook page to view photos of what was in the capsule.

The 2012 4-H Exploration Days theme was “Join the Revolution of Responsibility.” The Revolution of Responsibility is a movement for positive change in every community in the U.S. involving 4-H’ers taking on the responsibility to make a difference where they live.

We’re grateful to the many volunteers and staff members who made this event possible. It won’t be long before Judy and her team gear up for the 44th 4-H Exploration Days June 19 to 21, 2013. You can bet plenty of lucky kids will be there to learn and have fun.

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4-H Youth Conservation Council impresses Senate committees with environmental research

Michigan State University (MSU) Extension is helping educate and guide the next generation of leaders, and groups like the Michigan 4-H Youth Conservation Council (M4-HYCC) are leading the way.

Members of this group recently had the honor of speaking in front of two state Senate committees on the impact of invasive plant species on Michigan industries and ways to control invasive plants. The M4-HYCC research presentation was warmly received by the Senate panels, which lauded the group for their good information and solid answers to all of the committees’ questions.

The Natural Resources, Environment and Great Lakes committee was particularly fond of the group’s unique idea to encourage landowners to have goats and sheep graze land infested by invasive species, as the animals would eat the plants including the root systems.

The presentation was the culmination of one year of hard work conducted by the young M4-HYCC members as well as coordinator Andrea Grix, program leader Judy Ratkos and 4-H educators Darren Bagley and Insa Raymond.

Special thanks and appreciation also to the 4-H volunteers who work tirelessly to support this 4-H program: Jenny Curtis, Paula Ramelis and LeRoy Mikolowski, and the M4-HYCC’s partners in government, Bob Wilson, Senate majority policy advisor, Tom Occhipinti, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality environmental education coordinator, and Sue Tangora, who works on invasive species issues for the Department of Natural Resources and served as a key contact as the group crafted its research.

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4-H Exploration Days influences future lives of attendees

In just a few months, more than 2,000 young people will experience campus life for a few days when 4-H Exploration Days takes place June 20–22. But they won’t just be having fun although you can be assured fun will be part of the experience. What they learn and do in those summer days and evenings may influence their future choices and determine the kind of adults they will become.

 4-H Exploration Days, Michigan State University’s largest pre-college program for youth ages 11 to 19, draws kids and adult volunteers from all over the state. The 2011 program even attracted a guest delegation from Poland. Youth choose from more than 200 sessions held both on and off campus. Sessions cover a vast range of topics from basketry and scrapbooking to field hockey and basic Web page design. They’ll stay in the dorms, experiencing cafeteria food. Besides attending sessions, young people can swim, skate, shop or just explore campus in their free time.

 Statistics show that the program prepares young people for a successful transition to college and life as a contributing adult. Data obtained from the National Student Clearinghouse database shows that 4-H Exploration Days participants who attended the program between 2004 and 2011 and were high school graduates from 2009 to 2011 are currently attending college at a 77 percent higher rate than their Michigan peers.

 In a survey, ninety-seven percent of the 2011 4-H Exploration Days participants reported that attending the program increased their interest in attending college, and 87 percent said that the program better prepared them for college. Beyond that, 80 percent reported the program increased their knowledge of different majors, career paths and opportunities right here at MSU.

 More than 90 percent of the 2011 participants reported the program helped them develop life skills such as making decisions, managing time, adapting to new living arrangements, accepting people different from them, socializing, communicating effectively and following tasks through to completion.

 The proof is in the numbers. 4-H Exploration Days is a powerful program having a positive effect on participants for years to come. Thanks to Judy Ratkos for her vision, leadership and diligence to gather some very challenging but important data. Holly Lacina and Gail Hebert have provided valuable assistance in data entry and tracking youth through their early adult years. This kind of analysis is critical to our ability to help Michigan and local decision makers understand the value of our programs. And for those who like output numbers, we have those, too: registration for Exploration Days 2012 opened on March 20 and to date, more than 1,600 youth have registered, representing 79 of Michigan’s 83 counties. That’s a pretty compelling story, too!

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4-H GLNR campers contribute to science through coastal inventory of threatened plant

At 4-H Great Lakes & Natural Resources Camp, teens learn about Michigan’s natural resources through amazing hands-on experiences. This year, that included inventorying and mapping federally and state-threatened Pitcher’s thistle plant in three coastal Lake Huron areas within Presque Isle County. The campers inventoried almost 1,700 plants previously known to be in the region but never surveyed. The work was not only a learning experience for the campers but also a scientific contribution. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Michigan Natural Features Inventory (a program of MSUE) are now utilizing campers’ GPS points of these plant populations to monitor this particular plant species near northern Lake Huron. Find the full story and photos at http://4h.msue.msu.edu/4h/today/article/2011_4_h_great_lakes_and_natural_resources_campers_make_important_discovery.

4-H Great Lakes & Natural Resources Camp, a Michigan State University pre-college program, was one of ten programs selected nationwide to be part of an in-depth case study of high-quality 4-H science programs. The camp also received the National 4-H and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Natural Resources Conservation Education Award in 2009 and was recognized as a National 4-H Program of Distinction in 2008. Find out more about the camp at http://4h.msue.msu.edu/4h/glnrc.

Brandon Schroeder, MSU Sea Grant Extension educator; Jordan Burroughs, outreach specialist in the MSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife; and Judy Ratkos, senior program leader in MSU Extension’s Children and Youth Institute; provide leadership for the camp.

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