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Athena’s Warriors 4-H Team from Hartford, CT (Photo donation)

When you think about 4-H programs, robotics might be the first thing that comes to mind.

In its existence for over 100 years, the 4-H program has historically introduced farming communities to new technologies or approaches through youth development. The “Head, Heart, Hands, and Health” that is installed in the name has expanded in the current decade to include more programing in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), such as robotics.

Recently, several UConn 4-H robotics teams competed at the national level at the FIRST 2022 Championship and the VEX 2022 World Championship, both held in Texas.

Achieving national competition is not easy, said Jennifer Cushman, UConn Extension educator and leader of the UConn 4-H co-program.

“The annual robotics competition requires team members to work together to build and build a robot for eight weeks,” Cushman said. “These students not only acquire valuable skills for the future, they receive the opportunity to compete against teams from around the world. This is not your general overview of what it means to participate in 4-H, but this is the type of development that we provide to nonoman.

UConn 4-H launched its robotics program in 2006, when Al and Barbara Bishop of Bishops Orchards in Guilford provided gifts. The Bishops are UConn alumni and believe strongly in STEM and 4-H together.

The challenge in the FIRST 2022 competition consisted of a 15 -second autonomous period where the robot operated on a pre -programmed command to score points by taxiing from the tarmac, taking, and scoring the cargo assigned to the hub. Later, robotics team drivers control the robot and score points by retrieving their assigned cargo and conducting it with their hangar. One UConn 4-H team placed 2nd in their division at the World Championship, while another came in 5th in their division. The 4-H team also won several design and engineering awards to confirm its achievements.

While STEM is one of the three 4-H mission areas, it also aims to give youth participants the opportunity to meet others, have fun, and prepare for future career potential in the technology sector.

“This season was a learning experience that taught me a lot of things that are just mechanical skills,” said Reid, a participant from Southington.

The 4-H robotics program would not have been possible without the support of specialized volunteers, Cushman said. One volunteer, Bill Smith from the PEACCE Robotics Operations team, explained that he felt winning as many of his youth participants.

“The most rewarding part of this season is the students working together, collaborating ideas, testing and repeating them into the final design. Then, during the season, learn from the things that were successful as well as those that weren’t successful, [and] change, if needed .

Initially, Smith planned to volunteer a few hours of his time to work with participants. But, as he said, “Little did I know how beaten I would be to help these kids, sparing hundreds of hours. Finally bringing my own kids.”

While all participants are still celebrating their victory, everyone involved in the UConn 4-H robotics program already has their eyes on the future, whether it’s the upcoming competition or the future potential of the young people involved.

“This is the heart of 4-H’s mission, from positive youth adult mentorship to youth growth,” says Cushman. “It’s all about seeing and moving forward for the benefit of the communities we serve.”

UConn 4-H is a UConn Extension youth development program with the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources (CAHNR). As part of the University of Connecticut, 4-H has access to research-based, age-appropriate information needed to help youth reach their full potential. 4-H’s mission is to assist all youth ages 5-18 in gaining knowledge, developing leadership and life skills while building attitudes that will allow them to be self-directed, productive and contributing to family and community members. For more information about UConn 4-H, please go to s.uconn.edu/4-H.

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