Rachael Manzer, a five-year volunteer with UConn’s Granby 4-H Club of Granby, a UConn 4-H Alum, and former NASA astronaut teacher, won the Northeast Region 4-H Volunteer of the Year after being selected by UConn. Hartford County 4-H Extension Educator, Jen Cushman notes, “Rachael’s dedication to making a positive difference in the lives of 4-H youth has greatly expanded the STEM opportunities for 4-H Members and promoted UConn 4-H to new audiences.” Rachael Manzer exemplifies science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in 4-H. She understands the importance and need for STEM and Agricultural Literacy, and she has increased opportunities for STEM learning by establishing the only 4-H VEX Robotics Program in New England. Rachael’s efforts have not only expanded 4-H programming throughout New England (CT and MA) members participate, but also increased the visibility of UConn 4-H on the national level as the team participated at the World Competition and the NASA Cubes in Space Competition.
This robotics program has its own “Cinderella” story – big dreams and the amazing efforts of many to make it a success. In 2015, she started 4-H Robotics with participants who had no idea how to build and program robots. After only one year, the VEX Robotics Project group expanded to include a competition team and a high school VEX Robotics Project group. The team qualified for the World VEX competitions three times! All of the teams have qualified this year for the Southern New England Championship and are hoping to yet again earn a spot at the World Championship.
Mrs. Manzer creates opportunities for 4-H’ers to go beyond the robotic competitions to share what 4-H STEM is all about. This program has done workshops for preservice teachers, led build your own robots at local libraries, and done demonstrations for the general public at the 5th largest fair in the United States.
Her enthusiasm for STEM is infectious and every 4-H’er feels important. Rachael dedicates a large amount of time to 4-H throughout the year teaching 4-H’ers how to think, not what to think, and that you learn by failure. She focuses on workforce readiness skills in communication, listening, time management, critical thinking, problem-solving, and teamwork. Rachael regularly works with the youth on public speaking, marketing, and financial operations in order to prepare the members for the various roles they encounter as a team member. They work closely with the youth in planning and implementing the building of the robot, public speaking presentations, fundraising and various community service demonstrations with the robot. The 4-H youth in her project group shared, “Mrs. Manzer is extremely dedicated to the robotics team and its members. She is constantly cheering for us, both inside of the robotics environment and out. Her encouragement has impacted us greatly.” She is growing future leaders in 4-H, STEM, and Agriculture.
Rachael Manzer’s innovation shined as she was able to keep the 4-H robotics program going during COVID-19 following safety protocols. For many of the 4-H’ers, 4-H Robotics was the only interaction with others they had outside the home.
Rachael also led an additional project group for youth who were interested in developing a science experiment to send into space. Three projects were submitted by Granby 4-H and all were selected to fly into space, in June 2018. These projects provided youth with the opportunity to work as a team, design experiments, apply scientific knowledge, and deliver a public presentation at NASA. Rachael’s impact on programming and youth is literally out of this world!
Rachael Manzer, a 4-H alumna of the Litchfield County 4-H Club, grew up showing beef cattle. 4-H gave so much to her, her goal was to give back to the organization. As Mrs. Manzer stated, “4-H helped me develop a set of skills like; teamwork, problem solving, public speaking, dependability, leadership which I use every day in my career.” Rachael Manzer is a nationally awarded educator. Currently she is the STEM Coach for Winchester Public Schools. Mrs. Manzer has experience as an educator working in both suburban and urban schools in Connecticut. She also worked in the education department at NASA Langley Research Center in Virginia. In that role, she worked with scientists, astronauts and engineers delivering the latest breakthroughs in STEM to teachers and students across the United States.
Rachael competed against nominees from the other northeast states for the Northeast Volunteer of the Year Award. She is moving forward for consideration as the National Volunteer of the Year Award.
UConn 4-H is the youth development program of UConn CAHNR Extension. 4-H is a community of over six million young people across America who are learning Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), leadership, civic engagement, and life skills through their 4-H project work. 4-H provides youth with the opportunity to develop lifelong skills including civic engagement and healthy living. Learn more about becoming a volunteer or enrolling your child in the UConn 4-H program at http://4-H.uconn.edu/.
UConn CAHNR Extension has more than 100 years’ experience strengthening communities in Connecticut and beyond. Extension programs address the full range of issues set forth in CAHNR’s strategic initiatives:
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