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Extension Service opens door to STEM, health education opportunities for youth

Date: 04/01/2014

By Jon C. Boren, Ph.D., Associate Dean and Director, NMSU Cooperative Extension Service

Head and shoulders studio photo of Jon Boren.
Jon C. Boren, Ph.D., Associate Dean and Director, NMSU Cooperative Extension Service (Photo by Darren Phillips)

While New Mexico State University’s Cooperative Extension Service is well known for providing research-based education in traditional areas like agriculture, nutrition and 4-H, Extension programs also bring powerful STEM and health-related educational programs each year to thousands of youth across New Mexico.

The focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) as well as health-related education has become a key component of the Extension mission over the past decade. Integration of STEM and health topics in youth programs has enabled CES to reach more than 50,000 youth each year.

In counties across New Mexico, Extension programs include science, technology, engineering, mathematics and health through non-traditional, hands-on education. For example, STEM education is an important part of New Mexico’s 4-H experiential project menu. This year alone, 54,392 New Mexico youth enrolled in 4-H projects that covered the biological sciences, environmental science, engineering, agricultural science, health and nutrition, and others. The projects gave youth foundational science concepts, offered decision-making opportunities, built responsibility, created platforms for innovative thinking, provided socialization around learning and emphasized team building.

STEM is the name of the game for two special 4-H clubs in Bernalillo County that are solely focused on robotics. Their program revolves around the FIRST LEGO League, a national program that culminates in an annual theme-based competition. The Bernalillo County teams recently competed for the first time in the FIRST LEGO League State Tournament in Albuquerque. The competition brought out the best in innovative solutions to a stated challenge, and required youth to learn and apply computer programming skills, computer research techniques and innovative design approaches.

Extension’s annual Valles Caldera Youth Ranch Management Camp, in northern New Mexico, emphasizes science-based concepts, advanced technologies and applied skills used on commercial beef cattle operations to increase long-term sustainability, conservation stewardship, beef production management, business production, environmental impacts and economic challenges.

The Memorial Middle School Agricultural Extension and Education Center in Las Vegas, N.M., is a youth science center emphasizing participatory learning and direct experience education. Its mission is to develop a teaching and learning model of excellence for agriculture and natural resource sciences that complements in-class instruction by enhancing content through hands-on learning opportunities.

The NMSU Media Productions’ award-winning Learning Games Lab on the NMSU campus creates research-based educational games and media to teach youth about science, technology, math, nutrition and health (including obesity prevention). During research sessions with target audiences, youth game lab consultants evaluate products for usability and learn game creation, programming and media skills. Current projects include games and animations for science and math, food safety initiatives and an interactive virtual laboratory.

The lab has partnered with more than 40 universities, agencies and nonprofits on projects funded by the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Education, the State of New Mexico and private funders.

As the New Mexico Cooperative Extension Service moves into the future, we anticipate our role in bringing essential STEM-related educational programs to the youth of New Mexico will become an even more vital focus of our work. As we continue to build productive partnerships in school districts and communities across the state, we also will look for opportunities to expand and improve our programs to uniquely meet the needs of youth in our state.

The work we do in STEM-related education mirrors our overall mission of providing information and education and encouraging the application of research-based knowledge in response to issues affecting individuals, youth, families, agricultural and natural resource industries, and rural and urban communities of New Mexico. We must keep local needs at the forefront and our success will largely be measured on how well we listen, respond to our clientele needs, and bring about change that improves the quality of life for New Mexicans.



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