COLUMBUS, Ohio -- When he was about 8 years old growing up in the small town of Vernal, Utah, E. Gordon Gee joined 4-H, the youth development program of the nation's land-grant universities and Cooperative Extension System.
Now president of The Ohio State University, overseeing six campuses, 65,000 students and 42,000 faculty and staff, Gee is among the most highly experienced, respected and recognized leaders in higher education. And he gives credit to 4-H for helping set him on his successful path.
President Gee with some of his famous bowtie collection
"I greatly valued my 4-H experience," Gee said. "I believe 4-H first instilled in me the value of community, and it also provided some of my earliest opportunities to work with peers as part of a team."
His years in 4-H weren't without challenges, though. In fact, one of his favorite stories about his 4-H years involves an ant farm: "I thought I had been very diligent in building the farm and caring for the ants. But, all the ants died! Because of that experience, I like to joke that I was not a very good 4-H'er."
In 4-H, such missteps aren't seen as failures, said Tom Archer, Ohio's state leader for 4-H Youth Development and assistant director of Ohio State University Extension. They offer young people the opportunity to learn from mistakes in a nurturing environment and understand how to rebound from setbacks. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.
"I am often approached by people who tell me the team-building, decision-making and problem-solving skills they developed in 4-H became invaluable to them in their professional and personal lives as adults," Archer said. "In 4-H, youths learn not only how to work toward a goal, but how to communicate about what they've done, and the value of giving back to their community."
Ohio's 250,000 4-H members are advised by nearly 22,000 adult volunteers, most of whom work with members through the state's 4,547 4-H clubs. In addition, nearly 7,200 teens volunteer in the state's 4-H programs. Children as young as age 5 and in kindergarten can join the 4-H non-competitive Cloverbud program; those age 8 and in third grade up to age 18 can join clubs and choose from more than 200 hands-on projects to explore.
The impact of 4-H is clear. The 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development, an ongoing study by the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development at Tufts University, shows that 4-H participants are:
- More likely to get better grades in school.
- More likely to plan to go to college.
- More likely to pursue courses or careers in science, engineering or computer technology.
- More likely to positively contribute to their families and communities.
- Less likely to engage in risky behaviors.
And, despite the stereotype, 4-H isn't just for rural kids. Gee, who also is proud to serve on the National 4-H Council Board of Trustees, sees that himself:
"As president of Ohio State, I frequently travel to all corners of Ohio, and I can tell you that 4-H is everywhere -- in both rural and urban communities, cities and small towns. Truly, 4-H provides a model of leadership development for young people of all walks of life."
For more about Ohio 4-H, see http://ohio4H.org.