Pledging to “Accept the Challenge,” more than 1,700 teenage 4-H members and adult volunteers visited Columbus Saturday for what officials said was the largest 4-H conference in the country.
The annual 4-H Teen Conference and 4-H Volunteer Conference, held in conjunction for the first time, yielded a bumper crop of 4-H enthusiasts.
“It’s the largest 4-H conference we’ve ever had in the state,” said Allen Auck, Ohio 4-H program manager for events and activities. “As far as we can tell, this is the largest event of its kind in the nation.”
4-H is the youth development program of Ohio State University Extension and the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. OSU Extension has an office in almost every county with faculty working to bring the research done at OSU “to the people,” according to the Extension’s website.
Ohio 4-H Youth Development, which is one component of OSU Extension, hosted the conference. Since Extension is housed within the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, the college often has a role in 4-H activities. Major sponsors, such as Bob Evans, Monsanto, Nationwide, the Ohio 4-H Foundation and the National 4-H Council, defrayed some costs for the conference.
Registration before Feb. 11 was $35; after that it was $45 for each teen or volunteer attending.
Combining the two conferences at the suggestion of past attendees proved a successful strategy, Auck said. The conference registered more than 730 teenage 4-H members and more than 975 adult volunteers.
Held at the Greater Columbus Convention Center, the day-long conference presented attendees with more than 80 workshops, seminars and keynote sessions on a broad array of topics.
For teenage members, session topics included “Building One Million New Scientists,” “4-H Goes Green” and “Careers that Can Change the World.”
Adult volunteers tackled issues ranging from grant writing and limiting volunteer liability to project-specific sessions such as archery and meat goats.
Several sessions focused on preparing teenagers for further education and career opportunities.
“We firmly believe that careers in extension can change the world,” said Marlene Eick, student services coordinator in the Department of Human and Community Resource Development and a conference presenter.
The session on world-changing careers that professionals from the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) presented encouraged teens to consider pursuing opportunities in extension education.
“As 4-H members, they see one side of the desk,” Eick said. “This way they get a chance to see the bigger picture of what Extension professionals do.”
Students from the college also presented conference sessions. Six OSU agricultural ambassadors moderated three sessions on issues related to college preparation and selection, said Jill Tyson, CFAES’ prospective student services coordinator.
Dustin Homan, a third-year in agricultural education leadership, presented one of the day’s workshops.
“I was a little envious that I’d never attended the conference as a teenager, actually,” Homan said. “It’s a jam-packed one-day event with everything you need to know about 4-H programs and college opportunities.”
Homan’s session, “Get Ready, Here Comes College,” walked teens through a career-interest survey and matched them with potential majors.
“We talked about taking the ACT, college visits, what resources they should use searching for colleges and how they go about the application process,” Homan said.
The state 4-H office, located in the Nationwide and Ohio Farm Bureau 4-H Center on campus, said more than 330,000 Ohio youths participate in 4-H, including more than 46,000 high school students. More than 20,000 adult volunteers assist as advisers, mentors and supporters.
4-H has strong ties with Ohio. Educator A.B. Graham founded what would become one of the first 4-H clubs in Springfield in 1902. President E. Gordon Gee serves on the National 4-H Council’s Board of Trustees.