STEM Ambassadors in a lab on the Rutgers-New Brunswick campus. (Photo courtesy of 4-H of Mercer County)
Broadening its mission from the farm to the science lab
By Wendy Greenberg
I pledge my head to clearer thinking,
my heart to greater loyalty,
my hands to larger service,
and my health to better living,
for my club, my community, my country, and my world
—The 4-H Pledge since 1927
The almost-century-old 4-H Pledge still stands, as does its patented clover logo and community club structure. But one hint that this is not your grandparents’ 4-H is its local headquarters in semi-urban Ewing, next to a strip shopping center.
A more significant sign is what goes on inside: STEM classes, robotics, marine science, and lessons on climate change and sustainable energy. Members are not only teens from rural areas of Mercer County, but a large contingent from Trenton and suburban areas as well.
The goats and the chickens? Animals are the focus of several clubs where members have an interest — and there is a lot of interest — including rabbits, calves, and hogs as well. But there is also a youth investment club, 4-H Investment Club of Mercer County; an archery club, Hot Shots Shooting Sports; a wellness club, Healthy Body, Healthy Mind Club, which has a large membership from Princeton; and one that addresses composting and recycling called Treasuring the Trash.
Whatever the project, the goal is to develop leadership, and other skills, among youths and teens. The 4-H programs in all 21 New Jersey counties have evolved since the early 1900s but have kept the same emphasis, whether it’s a teen developing a Saturday STEM program in Robbinsville or presenting a project on raising chickens in Lawrence.
A graphic on the national 4-H website notes that nationally, serving 6 million youths, the organization has 2.6 million rural participants, but also 1.8 million urban and 1.6 million suburban participants — a combined 3.4 million.
Locally, 4-H programs are part of Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Mercer County, a partnership between Rutgers University, Mercer County, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Cooperative Extension is led by land grant universities — in New Jersey, Rutgers; in Pennsylvania, Penn State University; and in New York, Cornell University. The Mercer County chapter is headed by Chad Ripberger, a longtime 4-H extension agent with a background in teaching. more