Our Story: 4-H Youth Apply Animal Science

November 2017

The next generation of animal scientists – and technicians, engineers and mathematicians – are examining their interests and testing future careers, thanks to Iowa 4-H. Youth learn and apply animal science through 4-H projects and activities such as Animal Science Round-Up.

Iowa 4-H is the youth development program of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Youth can work on animal science projects at any time. However, Animal Science Round-Up is offered just once per year, during the Iowa 4-H Youth Conference. The three-day Round-Up also gives youth the opportunity to experience the Iowa State campus.

Amy Powell, the extension youth STEM specialist in Iowa State’s Department of Animal Science, coordinates the learning event, in which youth focus on swine, sheep, beef or poultry.

“When they come here they’re able to get a practical application of how science, technology, engineering and math can apply to an animal project, and hopefully spark their interest in a STEM field, and ultimately maybe get them to major in agriculture or animal science,” Powell said.

Agriculture is rooted in all parts of STEM, Powell explained. “Obviously the animal sciences and plant sciences, biological sciences, fit very nicely into the S part of STEM. The technology aspect of STEM, especially in animal science, can be a very simple applied technology like using a candler to look inside an egg or ultrasounding a sheep to determine if she’s bred.”

When considering engineering in agriculture, many people think of big tractors, Powell continued. However, from an animal science perspective, engineering also includes aspects such as designing barns, ensuring proper ventilation and managing animal waste.

Math is involved throughout animal science, Powell added, “determining how much you’re going to feed your animal, lambing percentages of your ewes or even just trying to figure out the break-even costs. ‘Am I going to make money with my animal science project or in agriculture?’”

Animal science students take many types of science classes to help them understand their animals and their relationships with animals, Powell noted.

“You have to be a well-rounded scientist to be able to do your job in animal science. Whether it’s physics and understanding the forces that cause that animal to go where it’s going to go and then designing your barn to meet those needs, or using math to calculate the average daily gain of your animal. It is just really rooted in STEM,” she said.

About 16,000 Iowa youth are enrolled in 4-H animal projects, whether a companion animal project or a meat animal project.

“My job is to develop programming in the STEM field that will help youth understand the science behind their animal,” Powell said.

Although she enjoys watching the youth grow in knowledge and skills during Animal Science Round-Up, she also relishes the metamorphosis that occurs within the budding animal scientists. On the first day, “they just stare at each other, afraid to talk to each other,” but by the third day, “they’re working together as teams, they’re putting what they learned throughout the week to use, and solving problems,” she said.

“For me, the transformation that occurs and how they work together is just one of the most rewarding things to see.”

Contact: Amy Powell, Animal Science/4-H Youth Development, 515-294-3441, ampowell@iastate.edu

Writer: Laura Sternweis, Advancement, 515-294-0775, lsternwe@iastate.edu