Youth, Family, & Communities
Montana | MSU Extension | West Region
Through county STEM programming, Montana youth learned many life skills.
According to the US Chamber of Commerce, Montana is the fourth fastest growing state in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers (2011). Montana needs to keep pace with the growing need for STEM professionals. Montana middle and high school 4-H students, particularly those in rural areas, have limited, if any, exposure to scientists and therefore often lack awareness about STEM related careers and role models in the field. Large distances and inclement, unpredictable weather make it difficult for youth to visit Montana State University's campus, more than a 700 mile round trip from some areas of the state. The BioScience Montana project began in 2012 as a way to provide 4-H students in grades 8-11 an in-depth experiential science program and introduce them in a meaningful way to accomplished research scientists and mentors. Additionally, many county programs focus on STEM in traditional and nontraditional 4-H programs.
BioScience Montana uses three unique modules (neuroscience, infectious disease and metabolomics), presented by top scientists, to help youth explore science, design experiments and test their own hypotheses. Youth develop STEM-related career skills (leadership, creativity, critical thinking, problem solving); learn how to access and make sense of complex information; communicate and collaborate with others; and build their knowledge and understanding. The year-long program includes an intensive on-campus visit and ongoing work through virtual lab meetings, social media and a winter campus visit. In a survey done in the fall of 2013, 56% of county agents who responded were incorporating STEM into their programs. Of the respondents, 78% were incorporating STEM into nontraditional programs such as afterschool, school enrichment or special interest groups and 74% were using STEM at camps. Several counties also participated in National 4-H Youth Science Day.
Youth completed surveys before and after the BioScience Montana program and a sample of the youth also participated in phone interviews with program evaluators. In the first class, 80% of the youth indicated they would attend a four-year college on the post-survey, compared with 60% on the pre-survey. Ninety percent of youth rated their interest in pursuing a science/technology career a 4 or 5 on the post-survey compared with 70% on the pre-survey. Specific to the science related content, the percent of students who felt they knew "a lot" about each module grew from pre to post test: Neuroscience from 27% to 80%, Infectious Disease from 35% to 90% and Metabolomics from 36% to 72%. Overall the program was rated highly by youth, scientists and mentors. One participant said, "My favorite part of the project was that I was given the tools to go out and research and discover things for myself. This was the first time I was really challenged to continue asking questions and find ways to answer them." Through county STEM programming, youth learned many life skills including problem solving, critical thinking, decision making, communication and goal setting in a variety of focus areas including, but not limited to, robotics, gardening, animal husbandry, food and nutrition, and photography.