USDA Scientist Credits 4-H For Building Kids’ Interest In Science

FORT RILEY, Kan. – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s support of such youth programs as 4-H for families on military bases is a positive step toward encouraging kids to pursue science careers, says a top official.

“I talk to a lot of students,” said Catherine Woteki, USDA’s chief scientist, “and I always try to encourage them to think about careers in science because there are good jobs, no matter what field of science you pursue.”

Woteki leads the Research, Education and Economics (REE) activities at USDA. Her staff currently is working on a study to determine what drives high school students to choose and stay in science-related fields when they go to college.

“We are doing an analysis of students who go into agriculture-related disciplines, such as food science and human nutrition,” Woteki said. “We want to know why we are losing students and what we can do to keep them.”

Recent USDA studies show that 4-H students are more likely to go to two- or four-year colleges, and are more likely to choose a science major. It’s why for the past 25 years, USDA has supported a program that places 4-H programs on military installations.

Said Woteki: “It’s clear that 4-H is an opportunity to get kids interested in science.”

Last year in Kansas, more than 700 youth were involved in 4-H military programs. The largest was at Fort Leavenworth, with 354 kids involved. The other military programs were at Fort Riley (282) and McConnell Air Force Base (80).

During a visit to Fort Riley Aug. 11, Woteki said, “The people in [K-State Research and Extension] that are working in these programs with the military … are so enthusiastic about it. They can see the importance of these programs to military families.”