Washington State 4‑H Teen Conference returns to WSU Pullman

Two 4-H teens enjoy a cooking exercise.
Two 4-H teens enjoy a cooking exercise during the Washington State 4-H Teen Conference.

Nearly 150 high school 4‑H students continued a historical tradition of growth and learning through career exploration and leadership development during the nearly week-long Washington State 4‑H Teen Conference on the Washington State University Pullman campus.

Washington State University 4‑H has a long tradition of positive impacts to youth development through high-quality, research-based programming delivered by WSU faculty and staff.

Though times have changed since 4‑H’s national inception in 1914 and integration into the Cooperative Extension system, the commitment to positive youth development never did: 4‑H now boasts a wider offering of opportunities that meet the interests of present-day youth, from drones to shooting sports to music and public speaking.

“In 4‑H, the idea is not that you acquire skills to hoard trophies and ribbons, but to share all that you have learned with the other youth and the community,” said high school 4‑H participant Arcelia Sciarrotta from Kitsap County.

 In 4‑H, the idea is not that you acquire skills to hoard trophies and ribbons, but to share all that you have learned with the other youth and the community.

Arcelia Sciarrotta
High school 4‑H participant from Kitsap County

This year’s conference was just the second since 2017. Workshops, tours, and a keynote speech from a former astronaut all played to the event’s teen-created theme “Discover Your Universe.”

“This conference provided youth with four days of learning and fun while introducing them to career paths they might not have otherwise considered,” said Mark Heitstuman, interim director of Washington State 4‑H. “They gained exposure to the campus lifestyle, different viewpoints, and possible areas of study.”

Hands-on educational sessions focused on discoveries ranging from the microscopic, like extracting and examining strands of DNA, to the vast, including a chance to see the cosmos at the WSU Planetarium.

“There was something engaging for everyone at this year’s conference,” said Kelly Stewart, 4‑H Whitman County coordinator. “We brought back the wildly popular College of Veterinary Medicine Clinical Simulation Center tour, and Juntos 4‑H presented a Latin dance and hosted two ‘Chopped’-style cook-off challenges.”

Additional programming included mock interviews where the tables were turned: 4‑H youth took on the role of interviewer to assess and rate potential “candidates.” A mystery based on a real-life bighorn sheep poaching case was also solved by applying concepts from animal genetics. Katie Forsythe, scholarly assistant professor in the Department of Human Development, led the mock interviews, and Kim Davenport, assistant professor in the Department of Animal Sciences, led students through the animal genetics workshop.

Multiple other WSU departments and offices, Life Flight Network, the City of Pullman, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, and Range Community Clinic pulled together to ensure this year’s conference was a success, Stewart said.

Based at Ensminger Pavilion, walking tours took 4‑H conference participants to Ferdinand’s Ice Cream Shoppe, the Horticulture Center, and many other campus locales. Social events included a concluding dance and banquet. The conference culminated in a service project for Ronald McDonald House Charities and a college fair tabling where youth visited with campus departments and student groups.

“It’s a powerful experience because they develop their confidence in the future and their sense of curiosity while thinking about life after high school,” Stewart said.

Heitstuman feels a sense of pride in showing 4‑H members the work of WSU faculty and staff.

“The faculty and staff did a great job hosting these students,” he said. “What an incredible opportunity for students to see the people and projects that propel scientific advancement forward at a major research university.”

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