STEM

Rachael Manzer Wins the Northeast Region 4-H Volunteer of the Year Award

Rachael ManzerRachael 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:

  • Ensuring a vibrant and sustainable agricultural industry and food supply
  • Enhancing health and well-being locally, nationally, and globally
  • Designing sustainable landscapes across urban-rural interfaces
  • Advancing adaptation and resilience in a changing climate.

Programs delivered by Extension reach individuals, communities, and businesses in each of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities.

4-H Biotechnology Project Area Survey

4-H cloverAre you interested in biotechnology? UConn 4-H is pursuing grant funding in STEM programming about biotechnology and gene editing with career focus in agriculture and food sciences. 

Programming would include hands-on biotechnology activities along with the opportunity to educate others through the creation of a digital game on biotechnology/gene editing for high school age youth. Topics could include the use of biotechnology to create solutions to problems we face, for example developing insulin for patients with diabetes or addressing issues like citrus greening that prevent oranges from being harvested. We are seeking your input on the level of interest around Connecticut on expanding program opportunities in this area. Please take a moment to complete the survey at http://bit.ly/4Hbiotech the survey will close on Tuesday, April 13th. 

Mars Base Camp 4-H STEM Club Teaches Youth Skills for Future Careers

Life transformative education begins at a young age for UConn 4-H members. The 4-H project experiences provide a foundation of knowledge and instill enthusiasm for lifelong learning. A group of youth participating in the UConn 4-H Mars Base Camp STEM Club are learning about science, technology, engineering and math while launching rockets and building rovers.

Marc Cournoyer, a 4-H educator with UConn Extension, is leading this seven-week hybrid program via Zoom on Thursday afternoons. Youth participation began in February on the same day the Perseverance rover touched down on the surface of Mars and concludes with their project meeting on April 1st. Curriculum is based on the 2020 National 4-H STEM Challenge and other STEM curriculum. The goal of the program is for youth to explore Mars from rocket launch to setting up a permanent human colony on the red planet. All participants were mailed a program kit prior to the first meeting and each week they have an online discussion in conjunction with hands-on unplugged activities.

boy with hands over his head and excited expression on his face while toy rocket lies on mars map in his drivewayThere are 12 youth participating in the program, and they reside in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. “The virtual nature of this club makes it possible to reach youth from a wider geographic distance” says Cournoyer. During the first week the group focused on rocket launches and getting to Mars – a mat with the image of Mars on it that they could leave a certain distance away from their rocket launch setup. Youth used the rockets to the rescue resources from the 2014 National Youth Science Day kit to build and successfully launch their rockets while tweaking designs to solve for problems encountered along the way.

“It was wonderful to see participants excitedly carrying their laptops around the house or making parents film their launches so they could proudly share their success,” Cournoyer says. “Throughout the next week I had parents sending me videos that the kids insisted I see as they achieved their goals. The excitement of the participants is obvious.”

The curriculum has focused on engineering design process using techniques of NASA scientists. Experiencing failures in the design and launch process builds resiliency and innovation in the youth and compounds the feeling of achievement when they reach their intended goals. Group meetings include discussions on prototyping and the scientific method, as well as engineering concepts and the science of space. Youth participants have continued researching on their own throughout the week between meetings and share additional related content of their findings.

One parent states, “I just wanted to quickly reach out and say how grateful we are for all you are doing with this club!  Jack absolutely loves all the learning and projects, and his curiosity is even stretching beyond your meeting. He’s asking questions, tinkering and overall so happy. Thank you SO much!”

Another parent reached out to say, “Luke Loves Mars camp! He’s a very reserved and shy guy; I am so happy to see him excited about this 🙂 Thank you so much for this program – it’s wonderful!”

“Club members are stretching their minds and imaginations, asking ‘What If?’ As we develop the next generation of scientists and explorers, opportunities to try new things are crucial,” Cournoyer says.

A new virtual 4-H STEM club will start in mid-April and run through May. This next seven-week club will focus on environment awareness and the important role we all play. Parents interested in enrolling youth members can email Marc.Cournoyer@uconn.edu for more information.

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, citizenship 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 and enroll 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:

  • Ensuring a vibrant and sustainable agricultural industry and food supply
  • Enhancing health and well-being locally, nationally, and globally
  • Designing sustainable landscapes across urban-rural interfaces
  • Advancing adaptation and resilience in a changing climate.

Programs delivered by Extension reach individuals, communities, and businesses in each of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities.

Summer Library Program Brings 4-H STEM to New London County Youth

little boy holding his STEM project from New London County 4-H summer library programThe 4-H Summer Library program in New London County started seven years ago with a program at the Waterford Library. The program added a few libraries every year. This year 12 libraries in the county are participating.

Pamela Gray, the UConn Extension 4-H Educational Outreach Coordinator for New London County leads the program. Therese Foss, an Extension Public Service Technician; and Sara Tomis, a UConn student and summer intern, also work on the summer library program.

“COVID-19 forced us to create a virtual program instead of offering the program in-person at each library,” Pam says. “While we miss seeing everyone, shifting to a virtual program is allowing us to serve more libraries and impact a larger number of children.”

The theme this summer is Be A 4-H Brainiac. All the activities begin with the letter “B” and include breakouts, blazing bugs, breakfast nails, and buckle up eggs. Towns with libraries participating in the program include Colchester, Franklin, Groton (the library and the sub-base), Jewett City, Lebanon, Ledyard, Norwich, Preston, Sprague, Voluntown, and Waterford.

“The Waterford Public Library is pleased to partner with New London County 4-H again despite challenging times,” librarian Jennifer Smith tells us. “Many families have expressed interest and relief to know their kids can continue to participate in fun library STEM related virtual programming this summer.”

The summer library program lasts for 10-weeks. There are five activity kits and five breakouts, or virtual escape rooms. The activity kits and breakout rooms alternate weeks throughout the program. Each library received 12 kits that they distribute to youth. Waterford and Norwich received 24 kits each since their communities are larger. Children from ages five through 13 are participating at each library. The kits use curriculum from the National 4-H Council and the Junior Master Gardener program.

A parent shared, “The programming that you are offering through public libraries is fantastic. It adds some excitement to our week, and we are using the activities as a jumping off point for other projects, reading and fun. Thank you!”

“My favorite part about working with the libraries is that we bring a resource to them and their community that they don’t have,” Pam says. “As 4-H staff we have a skillset that many libraries don’t, and it’s a great partnership that brings new resources to the library and introduces other audiences to 4-H. We also reach a different community with the library programs than we do with our club-based programs.”

The libraries have found that this year’s virtual program has brought new participants that normally don’t attend programming. Smaller libraries have increased their participation level as well; in the past, they would have six or seven participants in-person, but with a virtual program are able to give out all 12 kits.

“We’ve really had a lot of success with the take-and-make program concept, and this has been an exceptional one that I certainly wouldn’t have been able to put together on my own,” says Frances McGrath of the Trumbull Library in Lebanon. “I’ve got people coming in who normally wouldn’t come to the library, which is how you know you’ve got a winner. This has been great and the flexibility it allows for has been really positive.”

Libraries receive their kits each week. The library then distributes the kits to the children. Drop off and distribution follow social distancing guidelines. Each activity takes about 20 minutes to complete, and youth join the Facebook Live video on the UConn 4-H New London County Facebook page on Wednesday mornings for their instructions.

“The Facebook live session creates a sense of community,” Pam explains. “It opened the program up so that youth participating see how many others are involved. I’m already working with the libraries on a hybrid model for next year so that we can serve as many children as possible. We’re also planning to keep the breakout rooms going once per month during the school year.”

The breakout rooms have three skill levels, easy, medium and hard, giving all ages an appropriate activity. The free Breakout educational app enhances math, science and reasoning skills and is popular with teachers.

“We greatly miss our classes with the 4-H teachers, who are always enthusiastic, well-informed, and engaging with school-aged children,” says Marguerite Rauch of the Subbase MWR Library in Groton. “We highly value all that New London County 4-H brings us and our Military Community via the 4-H Military partnership. The children love their 4-H summer Library programs, and they always fill up fast. This year was no exception. Summertime is when military families typically move, so our summer programming is often the way we meet new families and welcome them to the Library. This is the sixth summer I have worked with 4-H, and they rose to the challenge and created a full summer of activities to keep children busy, having fun, and learning, which is what libraries are all about.”

UConn 4-H is the youth development program of UConn CAHNR Extension. 4-H is a community of over 6 million young people across America who are learning Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), leadership, citizenship 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 and enroll your child in the UConn 4-H program at http://4-H.uconn.edu/.

Article by Stacey Stearns

4-H in Sprague

Sprague LibraryOne of UConn 4-H’s partners is the Sprague Public Library. “I cannot say enough about the programs 4-H offers libraries,” says Elizabeth Bezanson, the Sprague Public Library Director. “The 4-H educators are always extremely personable and well prepared for any number of participants or age group. Activities are engaging for our participants and, particularly in our town, expose kids to science-related concepts they may not otherwise encounter on their own.”

“The Sprague Public Library invested in our own Ozobots and we were obviously excited when Ozobots were part of the 4-H program offering because the staff learned quite a bit about facilitating an Ozobot program.”

Ozobots are tiny robots that incorporate physical and digital aspects to teach youth how to code, and is one of many programs 4-H has to teach science, technology, engineering, and math skills.

“It was a great kickoff to our regular Ozobot programs. I think this speaks to the 4-H curriculum; it is trendy, current, and relatable. From a library standpoint, it is always a blessing to have a quality program that centers around a particular story or book that comes to us fully prepared and ready to go. Partnering with UConn 4-H is a win-win for us!

Article by Pamela Gray

NRCA Program Receives Award

nrca students in water

Congratulations to our Natural Resources Conservation Academy on their 2020 Excellence in Conservation Org Award from the Connecticut Land Conservation Council! The NRCA team comprises faculty members in Natural Resources & the EnvironmentUConn Center for Land Use Education and Research, Extension, UConn CAHNRUConn Neag School of Education, and NRCS!

4-H in Vernon Afterschool Program

youth members work on an afterschool project while a mentor observesThe 4-H in Vernon Afterschool Program was started in 2014 as a partnership between UConn Extension Tolland County 4-H and UConn Community Outreach (CO) Program. The 4-H in Vernon Afterschool Program is an enrichment opportunity where UConn CO student volunteers work with local area elementary school students in a fun and informal education setting, engaging in hands-on experiential learning activities in STEM and Healthy Living.

The 4-H in Vernon program meets on Monday, Wednesday and Friday in three elementary afterschool programs, presently run by the Vernon Department of Parks and Recreation. Coordinating all these partnerships and overseeing the program is the job of the UConn CO student leader.

For the last two semesters, Muhammad Shahzad has served as the UConn CO student leader for the 4-H Program.

Muhammad is responsible for coordinating between program and community partners as well as recruiting volunteers and implementing the program. He provides experience, motivation and opportunities for reflection for the collegiate volunteers, while striving to help meet the needs of the community.

Article by Maryann Fusco

4-H First Robotics Experience

By Alexis Nadeau, Alyssa Newell, Emmit Starkweather

Robotics team after winning competition
Team 3555 receiving the first place award at the 2018 Bay State Brawl competition.

Innovation is a modernly essential pillar to human development and growth into the future. It is this innovative thinking that the organization For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology or FIRST seeks to harness within adolescents and young adults. Focusing on the fields of STEM — science, technology, engineering, and mathematics –FIRST wishes to fuel interests in the younger generations.

State of the art organizations such as the First Robotics Program help to assist students in grades 9-12 with learning the difficult but necessary skills that shall be required to continue the technological growth and innovation which our era depends. Some of the careers that require these skills are mechanical design, electrical engineering, software engineering, and manufacturing. Certain teams in the first robotics program, such as ours (Team 3555) are 4-H clubs.

“My experience on the 4-H First Robotics Team has provided me with access to more knowledge than I was able to acquire previously, and has introduced me to better overall materials than I would have access to otherwise,” club member Nick Mercado said.

The way the club works is that students are allotted a time known as a build season, where each team is given six weeks to build a robot that will be used to compete in various competitions across that state. Each branch of our team does different tasks and works together with the other parts of the team in order to build a robot in a fast and efficient way. For example, the mechanical design people work on the technical sketches of the different components of the robot, while the electrical engineering people work on the wiring and the electrical boards.

While these two branches do very different things, they have to cooperate to make sure that all of the electrical components will be able to fit and work on the mechanical parts. Likewise, people operating in the software engineering branch have to program the robot so that it moves, which requires significant communication with people in the electrical and design branch. This is because the programmers need to know the electronic components that will be used in order to program them correctly, and they need to know the design of the robot, so that it is programmed in a way that allows it to move smoothly and effectively.

After the six weeks, our robot is taken out to various competitions around the state where it competes with other teams in doing certain tasks, such as lifting up boxes and putting them on levers, climbing up walls, or shooting balls at specific targets. The adrenaline rush that is experienced is wild, as the arena is constantly filled with the passion and excitement that is elicited by the thrill that comes with having the crowd at the competitions.

“Both optimists and pessimists have a place in the world. The optimist will build the robot, and the pessimists will bring the safety bucket,” club member Sam Secondo said about the challenge.

The competitions offer many new learning experiences for those who join the 4-H First Robotics Team. Students work under stress, cooperate with other teams, manage safety, show leadership, act graciously, show professionalism, demonstrate quick thinking, and take quick action, all of which are unquestionably valued by the 4-H program. Last year, the team had performed in two out off-season events: Bay State Brawl and the Where Is Wolcott.

“Without the 4-H First robotics program, I wouldn’t know even half of the information about engineering and mechanical design that I currently know,” said club member Alexis Nadeau.

Many people in today’s era strive to learn the new skills that drive the engineering world, and the 4-H First Robotics Program gives students the opportunity to be part of a team that teaches the fundamentals of engineering.

4-H in the Summer: Libraries Rock!

By Pamela Gray

geology puddingEvery summer, New London County 4-H provides programming to our local libraries. These partnerships benefit the libraries as 4-H provides technological equipment that are not affordable to individual libraries (especially the rural libraries in our county) and a range of experiential learning activities not readily available to libraries with limited staff. 4-H activities are easily adapted to fit any age group and is beneficial to every individual, regardless of their learning abilities. The theme this summer, 4-H Libraries Rock!, was a 7-session summer program giving participants the opportunity to do STEAM-related activities (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math).

Instead of taking a two month break from school, participants continued learning over the summer, promoting greater learning at school, more enthusiasm in the classroom, and a desire for experiential learning outside of the classroom. 4-H Libraries Rock! encouraged youth to work as a team, taught how problem-solving leads to success, and gave a general understanding of STEAM concepts.

A successful experience from the Janet Carlson Calvert Library (Franklin) involved young adults with special needs. These individuals were able to take part in the activity “ROCKets to the Rescue”. Together they assembled rockets made out of cardstock and launched by stomping on a soda bottle connected by PVC piping to the rocket (aka air propulsion). It was a challenge for the special needs participants using large motor skills to stomp on the soda bottle. However, with patience and assistance, they were thrilled to see their rockets shoot into the sky.

4-H Libraries Rock! programs at Groton Library and Otis Library (Norwich) reach a diverse community. The central locations of the libraries make them available to ozobot rocknroll dance partychildren and families who do not have transportation and need to depend on public transportation or walking. The majority of the youth participating in these programs make up urban demographics and may not have caregivers who are able to enroll their children in costly summer enrichment activities. 4-H’s involvement in these communities encourage and enhance youth’s cognitive development through the summer.

Today’s youth rely heavily on technology to solve problems and for some youth, experiential learning is intimidating. The first week of 4-H Libraries Rock!, youth made foil boats. They pulled out their cell phones, googling the best way to make a boat that will hold the most pennies before sinking. The 4-H instructor asked “Why would you use someone else’s knowledge when you have a brain of your own?” The phones were put away, and never came out again for the rest of the summer. Other kids engaged in negative self-talk: “This is stupid.” “This is not fun. Can I leave?” “I can’t do this.” Encouraging positive remarks, from the 4-H leaders and from kids to each other, such as “Let’s try again.” “That’s so awesome!” “Can I have help?” were game changers for the youth. They brought family members into the library to see what they were doing, and started each week with a ‘can-do’ attitude, no matter the activity or how challenging.

For more information on 4-H STEM activities, or how to get involved in 4-H, contact your local 4-H Program Coordinator here.