Misty Blue-Terry, Ph.D., 4-H STEM specialist with Extension at A&T, assists a teen during a computer training session. 

EAST GREENSBORO, NC (11.04.21-4-H STEM) How can 4-H encourage and nurture teenagers who show an interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)? At Cooperative Extension at North Carolina A&T State University, one answer is a program called Teen LEADS which stands for Learning to Educate About Doing STEM (LEADS). 

Funded by a grant from Google and the National 4-H Council, 4-H Teen LEADS helps teens develop their interests in STEM by teaching them to be STEM leaders, teachers, and coaches in their communities. The 4-H STEM specialist and 4-H agents work with a small group of youth throughout the year to enhance their skills in a variety of scientific and technical fields. The teens also learn how to transfer those skills to others. 

“They bring an interest in science and the knowledge they already have to the table, and we try to build on that,” said Misty Blue-Terry, Ph.D., 4-H STEM specialist with Extension at A&T. “We teach robotics, how to write algorithms, Scratch (a visual programming language), making games—a lot of the things that get kids excited about STEM.” 

In turn, 4-H members who complete the Teen LEADS program must conduct one educational event in their community every quarter, which could be a summer camp day, a workshop, or a creative competition that relies on using STEM knowledge.

The number of 4-Hers involved in each LEADS cohort is limited to no more than 10 so the program can be high touch and hands on, but they can participate for up to three years said Terry. Teen LEADS currently involves 4-H agents and teens in Wilson, Hertford, Vance and Bladen counties and will add participants and agents in Forsyth and Bertie counties for the next cohort. To participate, interested youth must fill out an application, obtain a reference from an adult outside the 4-H program, get a letter of commitment from their local 4-H agent, submit a resume and participate in an interview with the program planning team.

“We keep the program small to keep it high touch,” said Terry. “We want it to grow into a coveted learning experience within our 4-H program.”

The LEADS teens meet monthly as a statewide team and meet with their local 4-H agents several times a month. They are each expected to reach an additional 50 youth with their knowledge each year. Even through the complications and isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic, Teen LEADS participants were able to reach more than 379 of their peers in the program’s first year.

Besides helping other teens learn about STEM, program participants learn to focus their own interests and learn public speaking and leadership skills.

“I feel like right now I am a little leader, but I applied to this program to become a bigger leader,” said Aleesa Gupton, a Vance County youth who participated in the fall program.