It was never a question of if Laura Irwin of Hartland would join 4-H, but rather, when she would become a 4-H member. “My mom always wanted to be a 4-H member, and never had the opportunity,” Laura recalls. “So, she made sure her children did. I joined when I was 7-years old, and I’m still a volunteer and junior advisor for the Hartford County 4-H Fair Board.
Laura was a member of the Granby 4-H Club, and quickly seized every opportunity offered. She started riding horses when she was 8 years old, and then developed a 4-H goat project when she was 12. At age 16, she began a beef cattle project, and then swine came after that. Laura’s beef and swine projects were through the Gilbert family of North Granby, longtime 4-H volunteers. She also volunteered with the Hemlock Knoll 4-H Club.
Laura always tries to maintain a positive attitude, and you quickly realize this while talking to her. She handled the increasing responsibility and challenges of multiple 4-H projects with the same poise, determination, and professionalism that she demonstrates on a daily basis.
As a 4-H member, Laura came to UConn for Goat Day, and also visited the Greater Hartford campus for fashion review and other 4-H events. When considering colleges, Laura applied to UConn, Delaware Valley, and Colorado State, but never planned to go anywhere besides UConn. “I completed my first two years at Asnuntuck Community College in Enfield,” she says. “It offers a competitive financial aid package and I was able to participate in the gap program, and then transfer to UConn with all of my general education courses completed.”
Laura is a junior majoring in Pathobiology, graduating in 2019. She wants to double major in Animal Science and become a large animal veterinarian. “If I don’t become a veterinarian, I will complete a graduate program at UConn, focusing on research and becoming a pathobiologist, I’m already exploring work-study options in this field.”
Her experience in 4-H has enhanced her course work here at UConn. Material being covered in Introduction to Animal Science, Genetics, Pathobiology, and Physics courses is all an extension of the knowledge she gained through her 4-H career.
This fall, Laura competed in the Little International Livestock Show at UConn that is organized by the Block and Bridle Club in the Department of Animal Science. She showed a sheep, and won premier showmanship. “I credit 4-H for the win in Premier Showmanship at the Little International,” Laura says. “I never would have had the knowledge and skills without 4-H.”
Earning the respect of her riding instructor and having her 4-H project work come full circle were the most rewarding parts of 4-H for Laura. She began taking lessons with Lisa Dinsmore when she was 8-years old, and now Lisa looks at Laura as a knowledgeable horse person, and an equal.
Laura worked with her Hereford beef cow and calf every morning during her last year in 4-H and was Reserve Grand Champion Showman of Goshen Fair in 2015. Laura was able to see her calf grow up, have her own calf, and Reserve Grand Champion in the Cow-Calf class at the highly competitive Big E. The calf represents the third generation of Laura’s 4-H project work with that beef cow family.
In 2015, the Hartford County 4-H Fair advisors selected Laura as the Louis Kristopik Award winner at the 4-H Fair. The award recognizes a youth member who takes initiative, demonstrates leadership, and the ability to work as a member of the team. “It meant a lot that they picked me out of all the 4-H youth members because everyone is equally deserving,” Laura says. “If you receive the award you know you’ve done an excellent job.”
Laura began playing the piano when she was 6-years old, and knows many pieces by memory. “Music was my passion before 4-H,” she says. “I have a deeper understanding of poetry and lyrics of music. It’s still one of the pathways I use to connect with my brother.”
“I enjoy working with youth, especially those with special needs,” Laura mentions. “I want to stay involved with 4-H and help other youth gain the confidence to speak up for themselves. If you don’t have your own voice, what do you have?”
By Stacey Stearns