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From Vantage, Fall 2015

Participants at the 4-H Renewable Energy Camp, held July 6-10, 2015, visited the HomeWorks Community Solar Garden in Portland, Michigan, to learn about solar energy.

Participants at the 4-H Renewable Energy Camp, held July 6-10, 2015, visited the HomeWorks Community Solar Garden in Portland, Michigan, to learn about solar energy.

Since 2010, 4-H participants at 4-H Renewable Energy Camp have explored ideas, research and opportunities in the field of energy as it relates to natural resources and agriculture.

The 2015 4-H Renewable Energy Camp, held July 6-10 at Michigan State University, was sponsored in part by the Corn Marketing Program of Michigan, HomeWorks Tri-County Electric Cooperative and the Michigan Soybean Promotion Committee. Gifts to 4-H Renewable Energy Camp support the science literacy priority area for the Campaign for Michigan 4-H’s Future.

During the camp, the 39 youth participants aged 13-19 learned about solar, wind and bioenergy, heard from experts in the field and visited renewable energy production sites.

“The youth spent five days exploring ideas, research and hands-on opportunities in the field of energy,” said Insa Raymond, MSU Extension educator responsible for 4-H Renewable Energy Camp. “They interacted with leading scientists and engineers at MSU and in the industry, who provided insights into the latest innovations in biofuel production and technology and other alternatives to fossil-based fuels such as solar and wind energy. The field of renewable energy and related technology and career opportunities are growing and changing fast. At the Renewable Energy Camp, youth were exposed to  degrees, jobs and career opportunities within this exciting new field.”

The teens visited companies that are taking the latest discoveries of science and turning them into real products that have impact in local communities and around the world.  They toured and did hands-on activities at Carbon Green Bioenergy, Kellogg Biological Station, HomeWorks and a substation specializing in the transfer of wind energy.

Natalie Modrich, St. Clair County 4-H’er, has attended the camp three times and will serve as a teen adviser in 2016.

“4-H Renewable Energy Camp is a week filled with non-stop knowledge, hands-on interaction and idea sharing with people from all over Michigan – sometimes even other states,” Modrich said. “It’s a very beneficial and educational yet fun week that is well worth part of your summer vacation.”

Youth also conducted experiments, made biofuel, designed and tested wind turbines, and designed and raced solar-powered cars. Participants were also granted access to many of the resources that the MSU campus has to offer, including many lab tours and faculty presentations.

“My favorite part of 4-H Renewable Energy Camp is the hands-on activities we complete while meeting new people. My first time attending camp, at only 13 years old, I used technology in the labs that I could have only dreamed about,” she said. “Making biofuel for the first time throughout the duration of the week was very educational. I had no idea so many tests had to be done before it went to market.

“We take a plethora of field trips in such a short amount of time; as a result, we are able to experience many real-world scenarios of how renewable energy is affecting our lives every day,” Modrich said.

“My biggest take-away from camp is how much using renewable energy will benefit our future. For example, cutting back on petroleum usage by using biofuel such as ethanol and using earth’s renewable resources,such as wind, water and sun to collect energy,” she said.

“As a teen adviser for next year’s camp, I will help plan and schedule the week. After attending this camp before, I know what we liked and didn’t like. Also, what events or activities may be beneficial to add or replace,” Modrich said.

Modrich is a junior in high school and has been in 4-H for 12 years. She is a member of the Top Hats & Tails 4-H Club and serves as treasurer of the Rustic Ramblers 4-H Club.

“I would like to study materials science and engineering at Iowa State University,” Modrich said.

In fact, 97 percent of 4-H Renewable Energy Camp participants surveyed reported that the camp prepared them to attend college, and 89 percent indicated that they were more likely to pursue a career in the renewable energy field as a result.

To help prepare youth participants for the future, the 4-H Renewable Energy Camp educational activities are also aligned with Michigan education standards and allow youth participants to earn digital badges for their portfolios. Similarly to scouting badges, digital badges visibly represent skills or goals a person has accomplished.

“Instead of wearing the badges, individuals place the digital badges in a digital backpack,” said Jacob DeDecker, associate state 4-H leader and MSU Extension specialist.  “Think of it as an online space to keep and sort all your badges. These badges can then show up on Facebook, Twitter and web pages to share with teachers or prospective employers.”

Youth participating in 4-H Renewable Energy Camp have the opportunity to earn digital badges in solar energy, wind energy and bioenergy. Youth research a problem, design a solution and present their findings to the entire camp.

“Learning how to problem solve, work as a team and communicate are important life skills. In addition, youth engaged in these activities meet certain core science competencies that schools try to teach in the classroom,” DeDecker said.

A team of MSU Extension staff members are working on a process to allow youth to receive school credit for the digital badges they earn by learning and demonstrating key competencies during out-of-school time activities such as  summer science camps.

“The project is still ongoing, and we have much more to research before an answer is provided, but what we do know is that digital badges offer a unique opportunity for students to show learning accomplishments. We also know that students, schools, after-school providers, colleges and employers all have interest and something to gain by pursuing this concept,” DeDecker said.