Niki started her Extension career in 2007 as the 4-H Youth Development Faculty in Holmes County. After leaving the position for a short period of time due to a family relocation, she returned in 2012 and has been the 4-H Extension Agent in Holmes County since. She earned both her Master’s degree in Public and Corporate Communication and her Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication from Florida State University. Niki enjoys the study of personality styles and their affects on interpersonal communication and became a Real Colors Certified Facilitator as a result. Her work has focused on volunteer management and 4-H youth development to include healthy living, social emotional living, and STEM.
Niki has worked with youth in some capacity since she was eighteen years old. From working in a juvenile rehabilitation program, teaching high school, advocating for abused children, to 4-H youth development, Niki has worked many years in the field of developing volunteers to champion for youth and providing safe environments in which youth can learn and thrive.
Although Niki did not grow up in 4-H, she believes in its core values and mission to make the best better. There is no better way to work towards a position of leadership than to learn by doing. She believes 4-H is the perfect environment for youth to feel safe, be successful, and learn those important leadership skills. For more information regarding 4-H and its wonderful educational opportunities, please contact your local 4-H office.
The 4‑H STEM Challenge, formerly known as 4‑H National Youth Science Day (4‑H NYSD), is an event that we look forward to every year. In the past, this has been a single day event but now the 4-H STEM Challenge typically starts October 1 and continues throughout the month and beyond. This event is designed to ignite a spark in youth so that they take a stronger interest in science, technology, engineering and math through hands-on learning. For well over a decade, 4-H has developed creative STEM challenges to engage youth in the engineering design process and assist in the development of essential life skills such as critical thinking and problem solving through teamwork.
This year’s 4-H STEM Challenge, Mars Base Camp Challenge, was developed by Google and Virginia Cooperative Extension. The 2020 4-H STEM Challenge is designed for youth to explore the topic of a mission to Mars. The challenge is appropriate for youth ages 8-14.
Mars Base Camp Challenge consists of four activities, each of which relates to at least one of 4-H’s core areas: agriculture, STEM, healthy living and civic engagement. The four activities can be facilitated separately, together or in any combination, making it flexible to incorporate into your schedule. In addition, most of the activities do not need any form of technology, allowing for internet-free programming.
Up For The Challenge!
Feeling a little nervous about facilitating it in your club or classroom? Don’t be! You don’t need prior experience with STEM to bring Mars Base Camp to your 4-H program. All the activities have been designed to make it easy for everyone, including teen leaders to facilitate. Facilitator guides and checklists are available now to assist in the teaching process. And remember, since we use a guided approach, we give our youth direction and allow them to use their inquiry skills to find solutions through the experiential learning experience!
Mars Base Camp Challenge Resources
4-H has made the 2020 STEM Challenge accessible for everyone. If you are unable to participate in the Mars Base Camp Challenge through a club or classroom this year, youth can also participate in the challenge by way of a family kit or online. At this time, the National 4-H website is even offering $5 off each Mars Base Camp kit, thanks to the support of our 2020 national supporter, Toyota! For more information, visit https://4-h.org/parents/4-h-stem-challenge/#!2020-challenge
Online Activity: Youth can participate with INSIGHT FROM MARS, the online portion of the 2020 STEM Challenge.
Educator Kit: Includes materials for 12 youth to participate in the offline activities at the same time. Kits can be used in spaces where physical distancing can be followed.
Family-sized Kit: Includes materials for 1-4 youth to participate in the offline activities at the same time from inside the home.
The uniqueness of today brings forth a changing world with new opportunities to grow. Individuals are seeking ways to help make positive changes in themselves, in each other, and in their communities. One way people are finding to make these changes is through volunteering their time, skills, and support with 4-H. 4-H volunteers are the caring adult role models that utilize a learn-by-doing approach to help youth evolve into more creative, independent, and forward thinking leaders.
4-H volunteers serve in a variety of capacities based on their interests, skills, and time constraints. Some serve as club leaders for our local 4-H clubs. Other volunteers help with organizing events, judging competitive events, and serving as advisors on boards and committees. Because 4-H offers such a wide variety of events and activities, there are opportunities that can fit every individual’s personal goals, schedules, and needs.
New World, New Opportunities
Opportunities for people to volunteer have evolved even further in today’s world. Everyone has always considered volunteering as an “in-person” role. Although the in-person volunteer is still very much in demand and invaluable to the 4-H organization, another volunteer role has emerged – the virtual volunteer. With the covid-19 pandemic, the role of the virtual volunteer has made it possible for many more individuals that normally could not volunteer in-person, be able to contribute their talents and time. Whereas covid-19 may have restricted physical distancing, the internet has removed geographical limitations and opened doors to new volunteer roles for a larger, more diverse audience.
The virtual 4-H volunteer is an exciting alternate opportunity for many. The goals of creating a safe environment, promoting a sense of belonging, and teaching youth essential life skills are still the primary goals of the virtual 4-H volunteer. The only main difference in opportunity is the delivery mode. Through new, modernized delivery modes such as virtual club meetings, social media outlets, and pre-recorded sessions, the traditional 4-H program has become more current and efficient for the modern youth and his/her family as well as the volunteers, allowing additional opportunities to expand the 4-H program. Some 4-H programs have been converted to online programs to continue providing quality programming and meet the needs of all individuals. 4-H has been and continues to be a program that is available to young people in all U.S. states, U.S. territories and U.S. military installations worldwide, regardless of gender, race, creed, color, religion, or disability. Regardless if an individual chooses to become an in-person or virtual 4-H volunteer, the mission of every 4-H volunteer is the same – to help ignite a spark in each youth to find what inspires them in order to carry out 4-H’s belief in “making the best better.”
It’s Time to Become a 4-H Volunteer!
There is no need to let the pandemic stop you from engaging in giving back when you have the opportunity to make a difference in your own community –in-person or virtually! 4-H is always seeking positive adult role models to serve in a variety of ways. Volunteers have the flexibility to determine the amount of time given, location and subject area they prefer. Volunteers will receive full assistance from their local 4-H Office to include trainings, office support, resources, and materials.
Our top priority for the Northwest Extension District 4-H Team, Florida 4-H, and the University of Florida is the health and safety of our 4-H members, families, volunteers, staff and faculty. We want to make sure that our social media and website viewers are aware that many of our posts utilize photos and videos that were taken prior to our challenges with Covid-19. We want to stress that we highly encourage people to participate in social distancing and wear a mask when around each other. Continue to be safe and follow the recommendations of the CDC during this challenging time. We at 4-H are committed to your continued safety.
For information about COVID-19 prevention on campus and much more, visit UF Health.
4-H Extension Agents are available to assist you with your 4-H and volunteering needs. For consultations with 4-H Extension Agents, we encourage clientele to contact their local UF IFAS County Extension Office to make an appointment by email or telephone.
This group of 4-H youth, volunteers, and agent are enjoying the wonders of their outdoor environment. *This picture was taken prior to our challenges with Covid-19 and we encourage people to practice social distancing and wear a mask when around others.*
For many people, 4-H exists in the agriculture science and livestock husbandry realm of youth development. 4-H members showing livestock and entering exhibits at the county fair come to our minds when we see the ol’ green and white clover emblem. That is still very much a part of what we are today. However, 4-H has expanded and remodeled throughout the years. Now more than ever we are more diversified in our educational efforts. 4-H truly has something for everyone. Robotics, STEM, citizenship, meat science, consumer decision making, environmental sciences, and many more keep us relative and our mission of “learn by doing” separates us from others.
Today, I want to focus on why 4-H is “making the best better” in environmental sciences. 4-H professionals must provide youth with opportunities to apply what they have learned from their involvement in 4-H programs. When youth participate in educational programs in environmental science, who do you think wins? The environment we live in! Environmental science can be defined as a branch of biology focused on the study of the relationships of the natural world and the relationships between organisms and their environments. As you can see, this is a very broad topic. 4-H offers educational opportunities in wildlife and fisheries ecology, forestry, marine sciences and many more natural resource topics. Studies show that 4-H members go back into their communities and apply what they learn. This is a direct result of life skill development. In addition, these natural resource programs allow youth and adult volunteers to see the complexity of available natural resources and the connections to other fields of discovery like engineering.
Let’s look at how 4-H works in a nutshell. The child and/or adult attends 4-H Marine Camp where they participate in a fun hands on activity on plastics in water. The participant then goes back to the community with a greater understanding of use and recycling. He or she then shares with others about the experience. I have a particular interest in wildlife management. I enjoy teaching children and adults about species identification and habitat. Personally, I have seen the spark in the eyes of a 4-H member when learning about animals. Children learning the importance of environmental stewardship start with a relationship built by participating in a natural resource activity. 4-H can make that bridge between youth and mentor! Take a loved one on a hike or grab a pole and go fishing, better yet, reach out to your local county extension office and ask how you and/or your youth can be involved in 4-H Environmental Science.
Special thanks to Ronnie Cowan, UF/IFAS Okaloosa County 4-H Agent and County Extension Director, for providing this article and picture(s).