Individualized passions are cultivated for Dakota County youth
Like a detective, Dakota County 4-H Program Coordinator Abby Wagner seeks each child's unique answer to this question: What would you do all day if you could do anything you wanted to?
Like a matchmaker, she orchestrates moments of discovery. The match happens in the moment when a child meets the thing that they love, and that they want to keep doing for the rest of their lives.
"A kid can find their passion at a young age in our program. Whether it's animals or engineering, if you enjoy it so much that you want to do it when you grow up, then you'll always have something, that passion, your entire life," Abby said.
Like a team coach, she maximizes wins by putting the right players in the game. Dakota County is rich in expert volunteers willing to teach at project days. At these experiences, young people spend time on learning about single topic -- from rocketry to sewing a quilt to writing a play.
For example, Erick Agrimson, Associate Professor of Physics, Affiliate Space Grant Director, and Physics Chair at St. Catherine University rocket-building project days in which youth take their first deep dive into aerospace. He also takes the learning full circle, to helping interested youth go through the trial and error of building rockets, through to judging aerospace projects at county fair. Erick knows the spark that 4-H can ignite, because he himself discovered his passion for aerospace in the 4-H program.
Another volunteer, Collin McBrady who works as an IIT professional, teaches computer coding with youth as young as 10 years old. On coding project days, this volunteer helps youth discover the thrill of going from mere web surfers and gamers to actively creating digital products by writing the code behind them.
"The main thing that it comes down to is finding a volunteer who is passionate about the 4-H program and they want to see the kids succeed and learn," Abby said. She matches volunteers with groups and watches the magic happen. In her 14 year career, Abby said she has seen young people go from Cloverbuds to college students. Many times, an early interest in performing arts, agriculture or animals has turned into a college major and vocation. "It's pretty amazing to see it go full circle."
Maximizing magic moments is Abby's own passion. She grew up in the 4-H program herself, and knew early on that she liked teaching both children and adults. She studied agricultural education and leadership in college, and went straight into working for 4-H.
"I knew right away in my first internship that I wanted to do this every day. It doesn't feel like work when you're doing what you love," she said.
By Ann Nordby
Center for Youth Development