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"4-H programs spark NY youth to success"

Human Ecology magazine, fall 2015, 2015

Under a warm July sun, Diondra Dyer, carrying a backpack and smiling bright, strides across North Campus. Finished with Cornell Summer College classes for the day, she’s headed to play volleyball with new friends. It’s a completely different experience than staying in her hometown, where she planned to work as a nursing home aide.

Instead, the rising high school senior is spending four weeks of her summer vacation at Cornell through 4-H, which Dyer credits with giving her opportunities to explore her interests and confidence to pursue her dreams. “Before 4-H, I was basically the go-to-school-and-come-home kind of kid,” says Dyer, who is from Fort Covington, N.Y., a town of 2,000 people near the Canadian border. “Now I’m involved in so much, and I wouldn’t change a thing.”

This summer, she’s on campus thanks to a Summer Pipeline Scholarship offered by Cornell’s Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives in tandem with the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research. The program aims to put students from low-income or historically underrepresented backgrounds on a path to college. Dyer is enrolled in a conservation medicine curriculum, studying the health relationships between humans, animals, and the environment. She hopes to become a midwife, although she hasn’t ruled out medical school.

“I have always wanted to go into the medical field,” she says. “4-H showed me I can help people in so many ways—physically, mentally, emotionally. Growing up, I didn’t know how to vocalize my opinions, and I didn’t imagine I would have so many choices.”

Linking research and real life

In New York, 4-H reaches 170,000 youth across 62 counties. The state organization is anchored at Human Ecology’s Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, where researchers partner with 4-H community educators to develop programs, test new ideas in youth development, and measure outcomes.

Together, BCTR faculty and 4-H leaders are studying the best ways to recruit and retain 4-H participants, offering professional development opportunities to 4-H educators, including conferences where faculty share the latest youth development research to educators and Cornell Cooperative Extension county leaders.

“BCTR is a natural place for 4-H,” says Elaine Wethington, Bronfenbrenner Center acting director. “Part of the process of translating research is to have faculty interact with practitioners on the ground to co-develop new projects. Connecting with 4-H and its programs provides opportunities to benefit many more New York youth by allowing our researchers to learn from 4-H and also helping 4-H to improve their programs.”

Andy Turner, New York state 4-H program leader, agrees the partnership is a two-way street that benefits 4-H and the College of Human Ecology.

“There are strong similarities between the positive youth development framework that is guiding 4-H and the work of Urie Bronfenbrenner’s ecological model of human development,” he says. “Bringing 4-H into the BCTR allows us to look for ways to integrate youth development practice with emerging research and evidenced-based practice. It’s clear that 4-H is a major player in the extension and outreach mission of the college.”

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