4-H chaperone Juan Carlos Espinal takes part in the waiter and waitress race in Statler Hotel.

4-H youth glimpse campus life, possible career paths

The annual 4-H Career Explorations Conference – where 4-H members attend courses designed by various Cornell units and experience living on a college campus – welcomed nearly 250 young people from across New York state to Cornell June 27-29.

“It means so much that so many departments, centers and programs across the university came together to welcome youth to Cornell, inviting them to experience college life and learn alongside faculty, students and professionals,” said Alexa Maille, New York state 4-H youth development STEM specialist. “They had a chance to discover and pursue interests that could spark future career paths and also meet a community of people who are championing their leadership and growth through this event and in the future.”

4-H students were able to try on fire turnout gear and dressed up chaperones to participate in a fashion show.

This year’s programs ranged from learning about food systems at Cornell AgriTech to exploring nature at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. New for 2023 was the Statler Hotel’s “Be Our Guest: Welcome to Hospitality” program. Participants learned hospitality skills such as making a bed, preparing food, table setting and food service. They then tested those new skills with a smoothie-making competition, a bedmaking competition, a server obstacle course and a bake-off.

“We wanted to give the 4-H youth a broad exposure to different hotel departments, different hotel jobs, and different hotel skills training,” said Rick Kuhar ’86, director of learning and development at the Statler Hotel.

The participants also wore specific uniforms during each of the activities, including a chef’s uniform, or chef’s whites, during the bake-off.

“We wanted to simulate authentic work situations, so the uniforms help with that,” Kuhar said.

Cornell impacting New York State

“What was exciting was how well they remembered so many learning moments. And they understand the subtle difference between service and hospitality. They now know hospitality is the way we make our guests and customers feel welcome, comfortable and important.”

In Martha Van Rensselaer Hall, graduate students in the Performance Apparel Design Lab of Heeju Park, associate professor in the Department of Human Centered Design in the College of Human Ecology, led youth on an “Exploration of STEM through Smart Firegear.” They discovered how firefighter turnout gear is designed and used and how to properly wear and remove it, along with lessons on wearability, design, materials and anthropometry – all essential aspects involved in improving turnout gear.

Later, the participants wore turnout gear through an obstacle course simulating movements used by firefighters and decorated their 4-H chaperones in turnout gear and other accouterments for a fire gear fashion show.

They also learned about the design process for creating updated fire gear, including 3D body scanning where they were scanned and printed 3-inch models of themselves, and used conductive ink and fibers to create a smart piece of clothing.

“That’s the exercise that blew their minds the most,” said Andrew Melissas ’23, a Human Centered Design master’s student focusing on footwear and sportswear, who led the program. Doctoral student and research assistant Jeyeon Jo demonstrated  how to use conductive ink and conductive fibers to create a piece of smart clothing from an ordinary Hanes T-shirt and explained how the technology could be helpful to firefighters, like a temperature sensor in their shirt that can alert their team if they begin to overheat.

It wasn’t all classroom time: the students also got to bowl and swim at Helen Newman Hall, do outdoor activities on Rawlings Green and explore the architecture across campus.

“This program was such a great way to explore the campus and learn about the history of Cornell University while exploring different possibilities in our futures,” said Ameera Sajjad, a 4-H’er from New York City.

Juan Vazquez-Leddon is the communications director for the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research.

Media Contact

Kaitlyn Serrao