From Iowa to Infinity: 4-H Youth Embark on STEM-Fueled Adventure in Orlando


July 9, 2024, 11:30 am | Sydney Peterson, Alexa Groff

AMES, Iowa – Iowa’s future leaders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics embarked on an exhilarating adventure to Orlando, Florida, June 16-20 as part of STEM in Motion, an innovative 4-H Youth Development program from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

Thirteen enthusiastic youth from several counties across Iowa embarked on the unforgettable journey where they took part in a week-long exploration of science, technology, engineering and mathematics across some of Orlando’s most iconic educational and entertainment venues. Participants represented Adair, Guthrie, Crawford, Dallas, Webster, Fayette, Kossuth and Jackson counties.

STEM-focused adventure

4-H STEM in Motion youth at NASA Kennedy Space Center.The STEM-focused adventure began with visits to Disney’s renowned parks, where the youth explored the scientific marvels of EPCOT, the technological advancements showcased at the Magic Kingdom, and the ecological and animal sciences presented at the Animal Kingdom. From learning about space missions and innovations at Magic Kingdom to understanding the balance of ecosystems and conservation efforts at the Animal Kingdom, each day was packed with engaging educational activities.

The adventure continued to Wild Florida. The group had the opportunity to take an exhilarating airboat ride through the wilds of Florida, discovering the rich biodiversity and discussing conservation efforts crucial to preserving Florida’s unique ecosystems. A highlight of this visit was the hands-on experience of holding a baby alligator, giving the youth a close encounter with the region’s wildlife.

Defying gravity and learning about the physics of flight, the youth soared in iFly Orlando’s vertical wind tunnel. This thrilling evening activity combined practical lessons in aerodynamics with the sheer excitement of indoor skydiving.

Further exploring the scientific wonders of Orlando, the trip reached for the stars at the Kennedy Space Center, where the group embarked on a comprehensive tour of the facility. Some participants even had the opportunity to meet an astronaut, deepening their understanding of space exploration and its future possibilities.

A surprise detour to Cocoa Beach allowed the youth to enjoy a moment of relaxation by the ocean, adding a touch of natural wonder to their STEM-filled journey.

The hands-on excitement continued at WonderWorks, a space filled with interactive science experiments. From experiencing a hurricane simulator to testing the limits of comfort on a bed of nails and conquering a ropes course, the youth spent hours immersing themselves in fun, educational challenges. The day concluded with a magical dinner show, blending science with entertainment.

The adventure culminated back at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, where participants went on a safari to observe animals in their natural habitats, explored Mount Everest in search of the mythical, elusive Yeti, and soared over Pandora on the back of a banshee in an incredible simulation ride.

Inspiration, learning and personal growth

Reflecting on the experience, Sawyer Burken from Jackson County remarked, “When you get the chance to travel, take it even when it’s with people you don’t know because it might still be the best trip you take.” Sawyer’s sentiment captures the spirit of the Iowa 4-H’s STEM in Motion program, which provides educational opportunities and fosters new friendships and lifelong memories.

Iowa 4-H Youth Development is committed to inspiring and preparing young minds for a future in STEM fields through interactive and immersive experiences. The STEM in Motion trip to Orlando is just one of the many ways Iowa 4-H encourages learning beyond the classroom.

“The Iowa 4-H STEM in Motion trip to Orlando has once again proven to be a powerful catalyst for inspiration, learning and personal growth,” said Alexa Groff, STEM in Motion program coordinator. “It embodies Iowa 4-H Youth Development’s commitment to fostering curiosity, innovation and community among its members.”

Iceland in 2025

The next destination for the STEM in Motion trip is Iceland in June 2025.

“Known for its dramatic landscapes, geothermal wonders and rich scientific exploration opportunities, Iceland promises to be an extraordinary and transformative setting for the next cohort of Iowa 4-H youth,” Groff said.

For more information about the 2025 trip and how to participate, please contact Alexa Groff at Agroff@iastate.edu.

Shareable photo: Iowa 4-H youth pose for a group photo at the NASA Kennedy Space Center in Orlando, Florida, during the 2024 STEM in Motion trip.

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