The Idaho Department of Labor estimates that by 2025, approximately 63,000 STEM-related jobs will go unfilled due to a lack of adequately trained members of the workforce.

Given this statistic, the need for improving STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education throughout Idaho to better meet growing workforce demands is no longer debatable.

The University of Idaho Extension 4-H Youth Development Program is helping to answer this need. As part of our mission to bring research-based, hands-on learning to Idaho youth, 4-H has developed a variety of STEM-based projects and programs.

UI Extension 4-H has also formed a partnership with FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a New Hampshire-based nonprofit, to bring their world-recognized progression of competitive robotics programs to Idaho.

This year, more than 2,000 Idaho youth will participate in the FIRST LEGO League Jr., FIRST LEGO League, and FIRST Tech Challenge robotics programs.

In Idaho, 4-H and FIRST combine to create something greater than the sum of their parts. For example, to excel in FIRST, teams must not only show technological and engineering expertise, they must demonstrate their adherence to the FIRST Core Values, including Discovery, Innovation, Teamwork, Impact, and Inclusion. These values blend beautifully with the 4-H Pledge to dedicate Head, Heart, Hands and Health to foster personal growth and improve the community.

Both organizations are volunteer-based, with caring adult mentors guiding youth through experiential learning and discovery. Both organizations also create a real and lasting impact on the youth they serve, with nationwide studies showing 4-H Youth are much more likely to make positive, responsible lifestyle choices and take on leadership roles, and FIRST participants showing increased interest in STEM learning as well as feeling more confident in their ability to solve problems, resolve conflict, and work with others.

For some who grew up participating in 4-H, robotics may seem an odd addition, but embracing technological advances has been the 4-H way since its founding over 100 years ago. Over the years, projects such as bicycle repair, small engines, aerospace and even wind energy have joined the 4-H lineup. As our society continues to evolve, UI Extension and 4-H remain committed to bringing research-based information and best practices to rural communities.

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