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?”
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.