4-H spurs love of learning and future in academia

After graduating from Central Michigan University in spring 2021, Mecosta County 4-H alum Kiara Cushway sent a follow-up letter thanking Mecosta County 4-H once again for her 4-H scholarship, citing 4-H for helping in her educational and career choices.

 

By Abbey Miller

Mecosta County 4-H alumna Kiara Cushway was involved in Michigan 4-H, Michigan State University Extension’s youth development program, for 14 years. She started out as a member of Big Rapids Community Club and spent most of her 4-H career as a member of Grant Center Pioneers 4-H Club.

“4-H was one of the most memorable experiences I had growing up and played a large role in shaping me to become who I am today,” Cushway said. “The life lessons I learned and the skills and friendships I gained during 4-H, as well as the connections I forged with my animals, have meant a lot to me and have helped foster my passion and love for animals and nature.”

Cushway participated in a variety of 4-H project areas, including turkeys, pigs, ducks, arts and crafts, flower arranging and basketry, among other things. She attended the Mecosta County 4-H Camp as a child, and was a 4-H camp counselor.

“4-H helped foster my love for learning and taught me many valuable skills that helped me succeed in school and as a developing member of my community,” she said. “4-H also provided me with mentors who were invested in my success and who believed in my abilities and were willing to help me grow and learn. As a young person, these relationships and opportunities meant the world to me and helped me grow into the person I am today.”

She continued, “When I was young, pledging my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service and my health to better living may have just been words that were spoken at meetings or before shows. But as I have grown and developed, they have become a mantra that I strive to live by. The meaning behind these words and the actions required by them encourage me to use the lessons I have learned in 4-H to work towards making the world a better place in whatever ways I can.”

After graduating from Big Rapids High School, Cushway received the 2017 Mecosta County 4-H Scholarship from the Mecosta County Fair Board that she applied towards her post-secondary education at Central Michigan University (CMU). During her undergraduate years, she had the opportunity to study abroad and complete a variety of research projects. She earned a bachelor’s degree in biology in spring 2021.

Ever grateful for the foundation the 4-H program provided her and for the financial support of the scholarship, Cushway sent a follow-up letter thanking the Mecosta County 4-H community after her graduation.

“I am very thankful for the support of Mecosta County 4-H and its investment in my future,” wrote Cushway. “I would not have had the flexibility and opportunity I did without the support I had from groups like yours. I am also very thankful for the experiences, lessons learned, friends made and skills that I acquired during my 4-H years participating in the Mecosta County 4-H program. The memories I have from 4-H are some of the best I have, and 4-H was an integral part of the foundation of my educational and life success!”

Cushway also shared some of the highlights of her college experience at CMU. This included a faculty-led study abroad in New Zealand and a semester abroad in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands where she studied tropical ecology in the rainforests of the Amazon, island biogeography in the famed Galapagos Archipelago and marine ecology in the Pacific Ocean. Cushway was also engaged in a CMU research lab that was focused on native freshwater mussels. Through the lab, Cushway conducted her own research in Michigan rivers, presented at local, state and national and international conferences, and submitted her work for publication. Cushway’s prestigious efforts at CMU were honored with the 2021 CMU Provost’s Award, a group of awards given to only 10 outstanding undergraduate students.

With her undergraduate work complete, Cushway plans to continue her education at Texas State University where she has obtained a fully funded graduate assistantship and she will pursue a master’s degree in aquatic resources. Cushway credits 4-H for helping to shape both her educational and career choices.

“When I graduated high school, I was unsure about what I might want to pursue, but because of 4-H, I knew that I loved working with nature and animals. When I found the biology program and the scientific research that I eventually became involved in, it felt natural to fall into a path that involved animals and conservation. My experiences with 4-H left me very well prepared for both working with and caring for animals in a research setting and designing and conducting scientific research. The love that I have for animals and science that 4-H fostered within me became one of the driving forces behind my post-secondary education, and the feeling of being a part of something bigger and better than yourself that came with being a part of 4-H is something I strive for as a student and a future career professional.”

Beyond helping set her down her current path in life, Cushway also thanks 4-H for helping to develop life skills that benefit her personally and professionally.

“The life lessons that I gained through 4-H have been both multitudinous and indispensable. Caring for my animal projects taught me responsibility and dependability and helped me develop a strong work ethic. Completing record books for my market animals taught me how to conduct basic research and balance and calculate budgets. Working with other 4-H members and clubs taught me collaboration and how to be an effective member of a team. Working with animals also taught me that practice, patience and preparedness can take you far in life, but that it is also important to be willing to be flexible and adapt to situations when things don’t go as planned.”

When asked one of her most memorable 4-H experiences, Cushway recalled one of her first times showing chickens, at 5 or 6 years old as a Cloverbud, a 4-H program for 5- to 7-year-olds. She was very shy and terrified to participate in showmanship. Her parents and sisters had practiced with her to prepare, and she knew exactly what to do, but froze in front of the judge.

“I probably would have quit then and there,” she said. “But, an older girl came up and helped me walk through the showmanship. Her encouragement gave me the confidence to finish the show, and her willingness to help a little kid she didn’t even know has stuck with me, and I think this really embodies what it means to be a 4-H’er.”

Cushway highly recommends 4-H to everyone, she says. “The life lessons I learned and the friendships and skills I developed during my years in 4-H are invaluable to me and have helped me in almost every aspect of my life. The memories I have of 4-H will always be dear to me, and the experiences, connections and opportunities that I had are something that I hope all children could have access to during their formative years and as they are growing to become a part of our local and global communities.”

To learn more about becoming involved with Michigan 4-H as a youth member or adult volunteer, visit the Michigan 4-H website.

Change Makers from Alpena

In northeastern Michigan, the fight against microplastics in the Great Lakes is being championed by the Alpena 4-H Tech Changemakers.

Change Makers from Alpena

In northeast Michigan, the fight against microplastics in the Great
Lakes is being championed by the Alpena 4-H Tech Changemakers
thanks to a partnership between Microsoft and National 4-H Council.

In this era of beach clean-ups, plastic bag bans and plastic eating bacteria, it seems like everyone is trying to answer the question: How do we “turn off the tap” on plastic pollution in our bodies of water? We’ve heard from legislators, scientists, environmentalists and surfers, but perhaps the greatest voice in the fight against single-use plastics, also called microplastics, is that of our youth.

In northeastern Michigan, the fight against microplastics in the Great Lakes is being championed by the Alpena 4-H Tech Changemakers. The 4-H Tech Changemakers, a Michigan 4-H program of MSU Extension, is turning the tide on single-use plastics in Michigan through conversation and education.

The 4-H Tech Changemakers project is made possible by a partnership between Microsoft and National 4-H Council through the Michigan 4-H Foundation. This partnership provided grants for local 4-H programs to empower youth to address community issues through technology. As a result, youth develop valuable leadership skills, make strong community connections and prepare themselves for a lifetime of making positive change.

Alpena is just one of the 91 communities across 15 states with 4-H Tech Changemakers teams, all of whom are finding technological solutions to local challenges. In Alpena, youth decided to address a community issue that was very close to home: the protection of the Great Lakes.

Since their home is nestled on the shores of beautiful Lake Huron, the residents of Alpena have a special and direct connection with the Great Lakes. However, it turns out that not everyone is aware of the negative effect that their connections may have on the lakes themselves.

Through a series of educational presentations to community groups like the Alpena Rotary Club, Kiwanis Club and the Alpena Community College Association of Lifelong Learners, 4-H youth have started some important conversations. In the presentations, youth educate community members about the sources of microplastics, the harm they present to wildlife and human health, and solutions to the problem on individual, community and national levels.

The youth also engage in community service through cleaning up beaches and volunteering at community events to promote waste-reducing practices. In addition, the youth used their tech literacy to design a website dedicated to marine debris education, with resources specific to the Great Lakes region.

As a result of their hard work, there have been great changes in the approaches of the Alpena community. Businesses and organizations contact the 4-H Tech Changemakers, seeking their wisdom and guidance in reducing their organizational waste. Currently, the youth are partnering with a local theater to implement new recycling and compost bins, bulk candy counters, and a “bring your own container program” for popcorn and soda. The Friends of the Alpena Farmers Market have also been inspired by the youth to write a grant for reusable bags. Throughout the city, the 4-H Tech Changemakers are helping Alpena residents chart the course for a healthier Great Lakes region.

hands raised in the air

As individuals and organizations across the country celebrate National Volunteer Week this April 18-24, Michigan State University Extension is celebrating 53 volunteers who have given 50 or more years of service to Michigan 4-H.

Hands raised up in the air.

As individuals and organizations across the country celebrate National Volunteer Week this April 18-24, Michigan State University Extension is celebrating 53 volunteers who have given 50 or more years of service to Michigan 4-H.

“Volunteers are the backbone of so many MSU Extension programs,” said Patrick Cudney, acting director for MSU Extension. “And these 53 volunteers have truly gone above and beyond, giving their time and talent to our 4-H communities for half a century.”

Michigan 4-H is the flagship youth development program of MSU Extension.  Annually, Michigan 4-H provides approximately 200,000 young people ages five to 19 with experiential learning opportunities that help develop critical life skills. These experiences are offered through numerous delivery models and countless program areas, thanks in large part to the generous support of more than 13,000 volunteers.

4-H volunteers help lead young people and grow their skills in many venues, including after-school programs, summer camps, short-term special interest groups, year-long clubs, special events, fairs, mentoring programs and more. As they provide hands-on guidance and real-world experience, these volunteers also offer young people another crucially important element: a healthy adult role model who helps to grow their confidence and ignite their dreams for the future.

“4-H truly would not be possible without the support of caring volunteers. In their 50 or more years of service, these 53 people have made an immeasurable impact,” said Jake DeDecker, state leader for Michigan 4-H Youth Development. “For the programs they have led and supported, the initiatives they have championed, and the countless lives they have changed, we thank them for their ongoing commitment and dedication to Michigan 4-H and youth in our state.”

The Michigan 4-H 50-year volunteers being recognized in 2021 are:

  • Donald Anger, Midland County
  • Pam Babbitt, Muskegon County
  • Nora Davis, Branch County
  • Betty Dennis, Tuscola County
  • Robert Dennis, Tuscola County
  • Joan Dostaler, Houghton-Keweenaw Counties
  • Carol Fanson, Ingham County
  • Harvey Fanson, Ingham County
  • Betty Flath, Jackson County
  • Michael Fleming, Macomb County
  • Willard (Bill) Fowler, Hillsdale County
  • Joyce George, Clinton County
  • Sandra Gill, Menominee County
  • Gary Gracy, St. Joseph County
  • Terry Gracy, St. Joseph County
  • Frank Graham, Isabella County
  • Carol Graham, Isabella County
  • Suzette Hendershott, Berrien County
  • Judy Kaboos, Ottawa County
  • Alice Kempf, Muskegon County
  • Karen (Kay) Kietzer, Berrien County
  • Lucy Ann Knizacky, Mason County
  • Dennis Koenigsknecht, Clinton County
  • Jean Kuhlman, Ionia County
  • Joan Kuhne, Saginaw County
  • Patricia LaBair, Tuscola County
  • Diana Langshaw, Kalamazoo County
  • Martha Lawrence, Oakland County
  • Marilyn Letts, Calhoun County
  • Joam Lindsley, St. Joseph County
  • Roberta Luttke, Berrien County
  • Leonard Mitchell, Shiawassee County
  • Shirley Myers, Calhoun County
  • Norma Osborn, Chippewa County
  • Patricia Paasman, Ottawa County
  • Mildred Pirlot, Wayne County
  • Sandi Pyle, Antrim County
  • Barbara Siebarth, Monroe County
  • Charlie Silm, Clinton County
  • Betty Simpson, St. Clair County
  • Sue Smith, Huron County
  • Joan Spindler, Shiawassee County
  • Gladys Strong, Isabella County
  • William Thompson, St. Joseph County
  • Harry Vander Kolk, Allegan County
  • Doreen Wakefield, Shiawassee County
  • Janet Wendland, Saginaw County
  • Vera Wiltse, Isabella County
  • Bev Winter, Monroe County
  • Dennis Winter, Monroe County
  • Donna Wojtysiak, St. Clair County
  • Donna Woods, Calhoun County
  • Carolyn Worth, Barry County

In recognition of their service, 50-year volunteers received a gift of appreciation from MSU Extension leadership, as well as a personal note of thanks.

Tribute gifts in honor of any or all of these 4-H volunteers may be made to support 4-H at: https://mi4hfdtn.org/memorial-tribute-gifts/.  To learn more about volunteering with Michigan 4-H, visit 4h.msue.msu.edu.

Kids from Schoolcraft County with their targets

The Hal and Jean Glassen Foundation made a $100,000 gift to establish a new 4-H endowed fund with the Michigan 4-H Foundation to support the
Michigan 4-H Shooting Sports Program.

Kids from Schoolcraft County with their targets

The Hal and Jean Glassen Foundation Endowment will support the
statewide Michigan 4-H Shooting Sports program. Above are 4-H
shooting sports participants from Schoolcraft County.

The Hal and Jean Glassen 4-H Shooting Sports Endowment Fund will provide funds for training and equipping 4-H shooting sports volunteer instructors and youth statewide. An endowment is a fund that is held permanently. The corpus of the fund is invested and held intact, and the earnings from the fund are used to support 4-H programs.

“Endowments are the gifts that keep on giving,” said Tom Huggler, president of the Glassen Foundation. “We have been supporting the 4-H Shooting Sports Instructor Training Workshop annually for about 20 years. We established the endowment so it can be funded in perpetuity.”

The Glassen Foundation’s focus is on environmental and outdoor education, shooting sports programs and enhancing wildlife, and animal welfare research.

“The foundation formed when Hal and Jean died in the 1990s,” Huggler said. “They had no children, but wanted to do good work.”

Hal and Jean Glassen were avid hunters, outdoor enthusiasts and wildlife conservationists. The Glassen Foundation was formed to continue their lifelong ambitions and goals. Hal, a University of Wisconsin graduate, was a partner in the Lansing law firm of Glassen, Rhead, McLean, Campbell and Schumacher and practiced law for 62 years prior to his death in 1992. Jean was the first woman to graduate from the University of Wisconsin. With a degree in bacteriology, she pursued a career as a biologist with the Michigan Department of Public Health.

“The Michigan 4-H Shooting Sports program is going to be a key component and contributor to the growth of shooting sports, but also to the reach for excellence in the competitive aspects of shooting,” he said.

The Glassen Foundation has been a Michigan 4-H donor and partner for the past 20 years. They have annually supported the 4-H Shooting Sports Volunteer and Instructor Training Workshop at Kettunen Center. In 2017, they provided a gift to expand resources for the shooting sports program with the purchase of a trailer to store and transport training equipment. They have also given to Project KATCH and Kettunen Center’s outdoor education program previously.

“The new endowed fund will provide continuous support of our shooting sports volunteer training workshops, ensuring this project’s
growth and sustainability for years to come,” said Laura Quist, MSU Extension program coordinator for 4-H Shooting Sports.

Quist explained that hunting and shooting is a popular family activity throughout Michigan. Like any content area, the project is the “hook” that can attract a new audience to the 4-H program. While engaged in hands-on learning experiences, youth practice safe handling of equipment, gain natural resourcesrelated knowledge and skills, and engage in ethical behavior, sportsmanship and stewardship activities. In the process, they learn critical life skills, such as leadership, self-esteem, self-discipline, goal setting, communication and record-keeping.

“We apply the same learn-by-doing approach to shooting sports that you’ll see in any other project area,” Quist said. “Shooting sports volunteers are a highly trained, dedicated group of individuals, who receive more hours of coaching than any other volunteer group across our organization.”

4-H shooting sports volunteers participate in a 15-hour workshop to become certified instructors to offer live-fire activities with 4-H members. Instruction covers skill content, safety, risk management and youth development topics. These workshops are in turn provided by a subset of these volunteers, who are experienced content experts, certified to co-lead these workshops by National 4-H Shooting Sports.

“This gift will allow Michigan 4-H to annually send new trainers to these National 4-H trainer events, to help ensure our program, workshops and curriculum are consistent with standards set for 4-H programs nationwide,” Quist said.

“Already in 2020, Michigan 4-H Shooting Sports has hosted four regional training workshops, offering instruction in archery, shotgun and hunting and wildlife disciplines. Partially funded by the Glassen Foundation’s past gifts, these workshops are bringing new volunteers and members into our fold,” she added.

Kalkaska County 4-H was able to use these workshops to attract new volunteers and families. After certifying two new archery instructors
in January, their inspired volunteers turned around and recruited an additional two more volunteers. Together, this team offered a new
archery program that recruited 32 youth into a new archery club. Of those youth, 75% of participants are brand new families to 4-H. Due
to their large response, they have incorporated science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) activities into their club meetings, so
youth participate in hands-on science activities while they await their turn with the bows. Other counties have similar stories to share.

Thanks to the Glassen Endowment, Michigan 4-H plans to send a volunteer team to the National 4-H Shooting Sports Trainer workshop
in Virginia, scheduled for October 2020.

Over 100 participants at Kettunen Center
Over 100 participants at Kettunen Center

Over 100 participants attended the 29th annual 4-H Creative Arts Celebration at Kettunen Center from Oct. 19-20, 2019.

For nearly 60 years, Michigan 4-H’ers and volunteers have explored their inner creativity and learned new talents at 4-H’s skill-building workshops at Kettunen Center.

The Michigan 4-H Creative Arts Celebration Workshop (which is a combination of the former 4-H Visual Arts and Crafts Workshop and the 4-H Clothing and Textiles Workshop), took place at Kettunen Center in Tustin, Michigan, Oct. 19-20, 2019 for its 29th year.

Even though the name is creative arts, 4-H Youth Development educator Janis Brinn says “This workshop is so much more than doing arts and crafts; it is gaining life skills.”

 

Many sessions were offered at the workshop including 4-H performing arts, 4-H visual arts, and sewing and textiles. Participants learned new things, made new friends and put all their creativity to work and had a fabulous time. The workshop goal was for all the participants to gain valuable resources and skills and share them with their home counties.

Over 100 participants attended the workshop, including youth ages 12 to 19, volunteers and a guest 4-H staff member from Taiwan.

The collected evaluations showed that the workshop was a success. A few positive comments included:
“I look forward to this every year. I gain so much knowledge and new craft ideas to take to my club.”
“I loved all my sessions, instructors were amazing, and I learned so much. I can’t wait to share with my county.”
“Learned a variety of crafts that can be taught to different age groups.”

Each year a silent auction and fabric sale is held at the workshop to raise funds for following year’s workshop and the 4-H State Awards.

The 4-H China Art artwork, featured in the MSU Extension article, “Michigan 4-H receives special gift of artwork from China,” that was proudly displayed at the 2017 workshop was brought back for all to see.

The Michigan 4-H Creative Arts Celebration Workshop was successful in growing creativity, life skills, friendships, fun and more.

MSU Extension and Michigan 4-H Youth Development help prepare youth as positive and engaged leaders and global citizens by providing educational experiences and resources for youth interested in developing knowledge and skills in these areas.

Brady Gibson
Brady Gibson

Brady Gibson

Brady Gibson is a 12-year-old member of the 4-H Fulton Lucky Clovers in Kalamazoo County. In his second year of 4-H, he is involved in a variety of creative and expressive art projects, cattle, horticulture, physical and plant sciences. Brady is in sixth grade and wrote the following essay about his 4-H experience.

“Have you ever felt like you didn’t fit in? I have a great family with many cousins who are always nice and treat me good. But they are
mostly farmers and work with animals. I always felt like I was a little on the outside and didn’t feel comfortable helping because I didn’t
know what to do. Most of them are in 4-H and every summer they get ready for fair. I try to help clean equipment and wash and load
the animals but was very uncomfortable and didn’t know what to do.

I decided to join 4-H so I could be a part of that. I took a calf to fair my first year and learned how to raise him from a baby. I learned how to work with animals and care for them. Now when my cousins go do chores, I can come and help and not feel uncomfortable.

I still have a lot to learn but at least I’m comfortable learning how and asking questions. My cousin even asked me to give him a hand assisting a cow that was giving birth!

Middle school is rough. Bullying is not tolerated but it still happens. You can be super smart and kids will still make you feel stupid. Everyone pretends to act a certain way one minute and then differently the next when different people are around. Kids who I was friends with last year are mean to me this year. It is hard to make friends and even harder to feel like you can ever ask anyone a question or ask for help. You can only talk to kids in certain groups that you aren’t a part of like the cool kids.

My first year at fair I was nervous. But it didn’t matter who you are or what club you’re in or what age you are. I asked lots of people for help and everyone helped and answered questions. I made lots of new friends. Some are much younger, and some are a lot older.

At fair it didn’t matter what group you are with or how fast you can run or how smart you are. If I wasn’t strong enough to lift something, someone would help me without making fun of me. If I didn’t know how to do something, another member would jump in and help and teach me while we did it together. It didn’t matter if we were friends or if we were even in the same club or sometimes even the same barn.
Because of 4-H I can be a part of a group without being picked on for my age or my interests or sports.

Because of 4-H I can be anything I want to be, but most importantly, I can be me. What do you want to be?”

The Sebastian Family
The Sebastian Family

The Sebations, a 4-H family in St. Clair County, re-purposed a fair
billboard thanking our essential workers. This is just one example
of how Michigan 4-H’ers are lending their hands to larger service
during this unprecedented time.

Across the state, county and globe, the novel coronavirus, the virus that causes the infectious disease COVID-19, has upended everyday life in nearly every way. In Michigan, families and communities struggle to adapt to closed schools and businesses while working to preserve their own health, well-being and sense of normalcy. For many Michigan 4-H’ers, lending a helping hand is part of that normal, and many have sprung into action to help their communities during this unprecedented time.

Across the state, 4-H’ers have many ways to serve their communities while practicing social distancing. Among them are:
• Kalkaska County 4-H member Amy Saxton issued a 4-H Dare to Serve Challenge for other 4-H’ers to join in her Cards for a Cause efforts, encouraging youth to send cards to individuals living in adult foster care homes not able to receive visitors at this time.
• Similarly, 4-H’ers in Lapeer and Schoolcraft counties are writing letters and cards of kindness to residents of local
senior centers and nursing homes.
• Alger County 4-H’ers volunteered to shop for seniors who didn’t feel safe traveling to the store to purchase their groceries and other supplies.
• 4-H’ers in Delta, Eaton, Lake, Kalamazoo and Menominee counties have been sewing masks at home to donate to medical facilities in need.
• The Sebations, a 4-H family in St. Clair County, re-purposed a fair billboard thanking our essential workers.

“I continue to be impressed by the overwhelming generosity and creativity of our 4-H members, volunteers and staff across the state to continue the 4-H mission,” said Jacob DeDecker, Michigan 4-H state leader. “Our 4-H community remains committed to helping one another, while still practicing social distancing as directed by local, state and federal agencies.”

Youth aren’t the only ones stepping up in this time of need. Many 4-H program coordinators have come up with creative ways to continue 4-H programming and to promote 4-H.
• Charlevoix and Luce counties created 4-H project bags and activity handouts to include in sack lunches distributed by schools.
• Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Schoolcraft counties sent 4-H activity kits to Cloverbud members (youth aged 5 to 7) with age-appropriate activities such as Science on a Stick, a basil seed planting kit, Be a Nature Detective, Fun Fit Hike, instructions on making an origami clover and some clover coloring pages.
• Alger, Antrim, Crawford, Eaton, Kalkaska, Marquette and Schoolcraft County program coordinators have moved short-term special interest (SPIN) clubs online to engage youth virtually in a variety of topics.
With a sudden halt to many crowd-favorite, statewide face-toface programs, Michigan State University (MSU) Extension staff members quickly converted and developed online content to serve the 4-H community. In addition, many new and exciting programs have been created to connect youth and families virtually with 4-H.

“In tough times, such as the uncertainty surrounding the current novel coronavirus pandemic, we recognize that accessing the vast knowledge and resources of MSU is more important than ever,” DeDecker said.

Online sessions offered have included a variety of topics including Family Yoga, Basics of Credit for Youth, Writing Wednesdays and an Animal Science Lunch and Learn Lecture series. Several counties have also developed county-wide online scavenger hunts. In addition, a Lenawee County    4-H volunteer and teacher is recording chicks hatching and sharing videos online to teach embryology.

MSU Extension has assembled a collection of digital offerings and educational materials in a new Remote Learning and Resources space. Part of this resource pool is a compilation of helpful educational resources for parents and caregivers. To learn
more, visit https://www.canr.msu.edu/rlr

Brandon Schroeder
Brandon Schroeder

MSU Extension’s Brandon Schroeder was recently honored with
MSU’s Distinguished Academic Staff Award. However, before
joining MSU Extension 15 years ago, Schroeder was already a
part of the Extension community: he spent his youth as a Michigan
4-H member.

On Feb. 4 Brandon Schroeder, an MSU Extension fisheries and coastal communities senior educator, was
honored with the Distinguished Academic Staff Award at MSU. One of the most prestigious awards distributed to university
staff, the award recognizes the outstanding professionals who serve the university in advising, curriculum development, outreach,
extension, research and teaching.

However, before joining MSU Extension more than 15 years ago, Schroeder was already a member of the broader Extension community: he spent his youth as a Michigan 4-H member and credits the experience for igniting his passion for his field of work.

“4-H was a significant influence and opportunity in my youth – even before I was old enough to join 4-H,” said Schroeder. “I particularly valued my many 4-H leadership experiences, serving as a local teen leader to participation in state leadership programs and allowing me to explore the world through opportunities like 4-H Exploration Days. 4-H and my parents, who were also 4-H leaders, opened doors to many opportunities, experiences and lifelong memories.”

Growing up, Schroeder was heavily involved in the beef cattle and swine project areas, but he explored many other areas as well, from rabbits and poultry to photography and sewing.

“4-H was my opportunity to try anything and everything – and I certainly did.”

It was through one of these exploratory programs that Schroeder discovered his interest for the world of natural resources.

“4-H Exploration Days is where I first discovered career opportunities in natural resources; and getting my feet wet, literally, exploring wildlife, wetlands and fisheries science cemented this career passion for me,” said Schroeder. “I can very vividly remember specific 4-H moments and experiences, mentors and opportunities that directly shaped my educational and career choices.”

Another such example of those life-shaping experiences came for Schroeder during his attendance at a different signature 4-H event, 4-H Capitol Experience.

“I remember visiting the Michigan United Conservation Clubs during 4-H Capitol Experience to explore natural resource policy issues, not realizing then that I would one day have an opportunity to serve this same organization.”

Years later, Schroeder would return to the Michigan United Conservation Clubs as a fisheries policy specialist. After several years with the organization, Schroeder re-enrolled at MSU as an MSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife graduate research assistant. In that position, Schroeder began to give back by volunteering with 4-H natural resources projects including 4-H Great Lakes and Natural Resources Camp, a newly emerging National 4-H sportfishing program, and even 4-H Exploration Days.

In 2004, Schroeder began his official career with MSU Extension as a Michigan Sea Grant educator serving northern Lake Huron coastal communities, and in 2017, he became a senior Extension educator. In addition to fisheries science, biodiversity conservation, coastal tourism and application of science-based knowledge to address Great Lakes issues, Schroeder is a passionate proponent of place-based education and Great Lakes literacy, crediting his 4-H experiences with showing him how his natural resources career interests could pair with education and youth development.

This passion led Schroeder to help launch the Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative in collaboration with 4-H. Through the program, he works with youth who apply environmental science, technology, engineering and math to help conserve Lake Huron’s
biodiversity, manage invasive species and more. Since 2009, more than 26,000 students have engaged in these initiatives

“I am proud to serve in my Michigan Sea Grant and MSU Extension educator role engaged regularly in natural resources
education with our young leaders. Valuing youth voice and an opportunity to engage youth – through their learning – meaningfully in community enhancement or natural resource conservation conversations is exciting. We often hear ‘youth are our future’ but I have many, many times valued working and learning alongside youth as valued community partners and leaders today.”

Schroeder continues his 4-H involvement today in many ways, including providing leadership to the 4-H Great Lakes and Natural Resources Camp.
“It has been rewarding to find so many ways in which to stay active and involved with 4-H. I have enjoyed many opportunities to cross-connect Great Lakes and natural resources education programs through my work.”

Schroeder’s 4-H commitment extends beyond his professional career, as well.

“Personally, I have enjoyed watching my own kids explore opportunities in 4-H; and appreciate opportunities where I can support 4-H youth programs in my local community. I enjoy thinking – and hoping – that I might be helping to create memorable experiences or life-shaping opportunities for youth in ways that others have once done for me.”

The MSU Distinguished Academic Staff is the newest on a long list of accolades for Schroeder. He was previously honored with the Great Lakes Sea Grant Network Program Leaders Early Career Award and the Distinguished Service Award. Schroeder also received the Michigan Charter Boat Association’s Pistis Award and the Huron Pines O.B. Eustis Environmental Award for Outstanding Service to Northeast Michigan. In 2017, the Michigan Science Teachers Association honored him as its Informal Science Educator of the Year. Schroeder was also inducted into the 4-H Emerald Clover Society, Michigan’s 4-H alumni hall of fame.

Kennedy DeFrancesco

Alger County 4-H member Kennedy DeFrancesco, of Munising, was elected to the Michigan 4-H Foundation board of trustees at its January board meeting.

Kennedy DeFrancesco

Kennedy DeFrancesco

Michigan 4-H Foundation trustees are volunteers who serve as community advocates for 4-H and lead and manage the operation of the Michigan 4-H Foundation. DeFrancesco was elected to one of the three positions on the board reserved for trustees between the ages of 16 and 22. These trustees, all 4-H members, provide a youth voice to the board and help it to keep to the 4-H mission.

DeFrancesco has been a member of Alger County’s Munising 4-H Club since 2010. She initially became involved in the 4 H projects of crafts, sewing, scrapbooking and then community service. Through her experiences with 4-H she has grown comfortable in using her voice and providing insights and thoughts about many issues that are critical to 4-H and her own life.

She also worked to develop her leadership skills, through events such as 4-H Capitol Experience, the Michigan 4 H State Youth Leadership Council, the Michigan 4-H Youth Leadership and Global Citizen Spectacular, 4-H Citizenship Washington Focus and National 4-H Congress. She received the 4-H Teen of the Year Award and served as the U.P. 4-H travel coordinator as she and her peers from northern Michigan traveled to Atlanta, Georgia. Her 4-H experience has led her to study political science at Ferris State University where she is a member of the Speech and Debate Team and Model UN. She has a strong interest and focus on women’s advocacy.