Head, Heart, Hands and Hardware? 4-H, Technology, and the University

In a way, it started with a rocket. Steven Worker holds his hands about ten inches apart, miming the outcome of the project that got him hooked on 4-H when he was just twelve. ?Oh, you know,? he says: ?Wood glue. Paint kit. Go out and launch it in an abandoned field.?

Now, 15 years later, Worker, the California 4-H Youth Development Program Representative, is still applying his skills in 4-H, though he's moved on from that first project. In 1998, he and a group of four others started the 4-H Computer Corps, a group of volunteers that helped launch the organization into cyberspace.

The 4-H Computer Corps

The Corps started within Worker's office as a loose group just trying to keep the state Web site updated. From there, it blossomed into a creative nucleus that organized teaching workshops. It now consists of 20 volunteers from around the state, each with a year-long commitment to the group. Together, and with other volunteers working at the county level, they've' launched a 4-H technological assault on several fronts: keeping the Web site current and running smoothly; creating and carrying out teaching workshops on software programs and Web page-building; and now, armed with a mobile lab of computers donated by Hewlett Packard, bringing computer education to areas without ready access to information technology.

An Unlikely Place for a Techie

Located in the dusty agricultural part of campus, Worker's office seems an unlikely spot for a technology outpost. Then again, the Computer Corps he's helped create doesn't fit with 4-H's agricultural stereotype (neither, for that matter, does his computer's screensaver, which shows a huge, green-ringed planet sinking into an alien sea). 4-H, however, which offers projects in fields as diverse as leathercraft and video editing, has gotten increasingly tech-savvy?and it has had to. About one-fourth of its participants now li ve in cities, and in a society that demands that employees be comfortable working with technology, 4-H has had to offer education in IT to prepare its youth for successful lives and careers. To do so, it has expanded its already long list of options for the 1.5 million participants across the country who choose science and technology projects.

A group in Merced County has mapped trails for the Parks Department using global positioning systems (GPS), high-tech navigation tools. Alabama 4-H members worked with NASA to create Club Space Place, a children's educational program covering the space sciences. And in San Diego, a 4-H group has been working with fire management, helping monitor post-fire land-restoration by taking digital photographs.

Technology in the Rest of the Club: Rabbits, Sheep, and Ambassadors

The divide between technology and agriculture within 4-H hasn't proven clear cut, however. Instead of advancing upon and replacing more traditional projects, information technology has slowly filtered into the club's agricultural areas. A student might still choose to raise sheep, for example, but she'll learn to plot the animals? feeding schedules on an Excel spreadsheet rather than on paper.

Hally Fobes, 17, and a member of 4-H in Sacramento, doesn't work with the Computer Corps. She works with rabbits; nevertheless, she's seen the integration of technology and agriculture firsthand. Access to Instant Messenger made Fobes? computer an ad hoc rabbit hotline, allowing members across the state instant access to advice should a rabbit become sick or stop eating.

Fobes also works with 4-H's Ambassador Program, representing the club to donors and potential members. She's noticed a change in the visibility both her program and the club have received; because of the Internet, she and fellow ambassadors now find it easier to contact TV, radio, and news reporters.

Head, Heart, Hands, Health, AND Hardware

The 4-H Computer Corps is more than just a means to an end, however; it's a learning experience in itself. Aside from its concrete successes, such as the Web site and the mobile computer lab, the Corps has fostered a unique partnership between youth and adults. This relationship?along with the CA 4-H Web site's high visibility on Google?is among the Corps? primary achievements, according to Worker. ?In this organization, the 15, 18, and 20 year-olds have just as much say as the 30, 40, 50 year-olds,? he explains. ?It's an opportunity for personal growth for both youth and adults.?

The Computer Corps is run entirely by volunteers. Unlike 4-H organizations in many other states, there's no paid staff to do what the Computer Corps does. In this way, the Corps provides a living example of 4-H's core values of volunteerism and personal development?what the Head, Heart, Hands and Health in the organization's name are all about.

The 4-H/UC Davis Connection

4-H is affiliated with UC Davis through the University of California's Cooperative Extension, and fulfills part of UC Davis? requirements as a land-grant university to serve the community.

Land-grant universities were created in the late 19th century as a way to promote practical education by using research generated in major universities.

In exchange for funding, land-grant universities provide agricultural education in their classrooms and in surrounding regions, making them, in the words of C. Peter Magrath, President of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, 'truly people's universities.?

Get Involved!

Download an application from the Computer Corps Web site at ca4h.org/compcorps. Membership is a one year commitment from January to December, and applications are due by September 30.