More than 400 middle and high school students from 45 New York state counties and extension programs made their way to Cornell’s Ithaca campus June 27-29 to investigate the mysteries of the cosmos, perform physical exams on small and large animals, understand the intricacies of food science and learn to program robots.
These activities were only a few of the many workshops taught by Cornell faculty, staff and graduate students during the 4-H Career Explorations conference, an annual event that exposes youth to academic fields and career exploration by delivering a hands-on experience in a college setting.
“Our main purpose of career explorations is to give young people a chance to get a feel for careers that they’ve never even heard of, or maybe never even considered for themselves,” said Alexa Maille, conference coordinator and New York State 4-H science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension at the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, a research and outreach branch of the College of Human Ecology.
“This is the first college experience for a lot our participants and we receive a good amount of feedback from these youth, both during the conference and after, saying that they are now interested in pursuing future studies or a career in one of the subject areas that they were exposed to here first,” Maille added.
Dozens of scholarships were made available through the New York State 4-H Foundation and Cornell University.
The conference’s 30 programs focused on healthy living, STEM, civic engagement and leadership and were facilitated by the Colleges of Human Ecology, Agriculture and Life Sciences, Arts and Sciences, and Engineering and Information Science, as well as the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art and the Museum of the Earth. The event connected youth to academic fields including engineering, animal science, astronomy, environmental science, food science, nanotechnology and human development.
A program titled “A Tour of Human Development across the Lifespan,” organized by the Bronfenbrenner Center’s Program for Research on Youth Development and Engagement (PRYDE), introduced human development to students with interests in sociology, psychology, neuroscience, medicine, education, public health or social work.
“We really wanted to expose the youth to both the idea of lifespan human development, showing them that development continues at all ages, and to different research methods,” said Jennifer Agans, PRYDE assistant director for research on youth development and engagement. “For us, this was really an amazing opportunity to work directly with youth and teach them about social science, as well as to align to our mission in connecting 4-H programs with campus research.”
Students heard from professors about their research, visited the fMRI lab and saw how brain scans can provide insights into human behavior. They also participated in career-related activities including interviews and focus group to better understand research methods.
And students discussed academic directions and personal career pathways with graduate students, lab managers, program assistants and postdoctoral fellows, who shed light on the transition from high school to college to career.
Skyler Masse, 16, from Niagara County, participated in the human development program and is interested in a career in medicine and health.
“Working hand-in-hand with the professors and students allowed me to be able to see that it’s okay not to have a direct route to college; there are many options, and a lot more options, than you may think there are,” she said. “Interviewing graduate students and postdocs, and hearing directly from them, helped me realize that it’s okay to change what you’re doing, even in college. You don’t have to have a set major, and that they went through the same thing.”
Meghan Stang, 17, from Cattaraugas County, is considering physical therapy as a career. She said the experience has given her more confidence in her future academic and professional life.
“Just listening to all of the graduate students and undergraduate students who came and spoke to us, they were in a similar situation when they were my age, and now they are succeeding in life,” she said. “It makes me think that even though I don’t know exactly where I want to go or what I want to do around physical therapy, I’ll be okay. I will succeed.”
Stephen D’Angelo is assistant director of communications in the College of Human Ecology.