Sophia New (left) is one of 15 youth from Johnson County who participated in Science Matters, a program created by Bayer and National 4-H to help youth explore science-related careers in agriculture. After a tour of Bayer Animal Health in Shawnee recently, New had the opportunity to talk with Bayer employees about 4-H and her Science Matters project. Submitted Photo
For 14-year-old Ellie Cole, the attraction was learning about careers in veterinary medicine. For Leah Kwasiborski, 15, it was the chance to explore science-related careers in agriculture. Others learned about water quality, zoonotic diseases and growing produce while enhancing their understanding of food insecurity.
Cole, Kwasiborski and 13 other youth from suburban Johnson County, Kansas has been exploring potential careers through one portion of a national program called Science Matters, created by Bayer and National 4-H. The program’s community-based grants brought 4-H leaders and Bayer employees together in five regions across the country, to foster young peoples’ interest in careers in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.
“I train and show dogs, and have an interest in veterinary medicine,” said Cole, a student at Mill Valley High School. Some students were interested in careers in animal health, while others said they were still exploring options. One student has her sights set on being a Supreme Court justice.
Johnson Co. 4-H was awarded one of five $22,500 community grants through the Bayer and 4-H Science Matters program. The grant funded a trip for 15 Johnson County youth, some 4-H members and some not, to participate in a National Youth Summit on Argo-Science in Washington, D.C. last January.
Since then, Bayer employees volunteered to help the teens work through three science-based local challenges in Johnson County and to develop solutions that address each issue. Those solutions led to hands-on projects, including working with residents of a senior living center to study food insecurity and also plant vegetables.
In a second project, the students worked with a Bayer veterinarian to identify zoonotic diseases – those that can be spread from animals to humans – and developed an informational flyer which they distributed at veterinary offices and at a Tractor Supply Company store. The third program developed a plan to educate third- through fifth-graders about ways to conserve water.
“I think that any time we’re able to expose students to career opportunities at science-based companies, it’s a good day,” said Kerry Johnson, communications manager at Bayer U.S. Animal Health.
Youth teaching adults
As part of the program, Bayer U.S. Animal Health, based in Shawnee, provided a tour of its labs and other facilities in early June. The teens met with a veterinarian who had been a large animal practitioner but now works with Bayer customers to ensure that products are used correctly and to answer questions; a company recruiter who spoke about career opportunities at Bayer and the education needed to apply; a chemist who explained how products are developed; and others.
And that’s where the tables turned. The students then had the opportunity to explain their projects to Bayer employees and to tell about 4-H and how, in addition, to projects from photography to robotics to woodworking, 4-H is nurturing youth interest in science, technology, engineering and math.
“The biggest lesson learned by the youth was their ability to make a difference in their community,” said Tara Markley, director of the K-State Research and Extension office in Johnson County. 4-H is part of the national extension program.
“Their ability to connect the knowledge they gained through the Argo-Summit back to their local community needs was extremely insightful,” Markley said. “This grant allowed the 4-H’ers to practice experiential learning first hand. They were able to identify a community problem and come up with action steps to help solve it.”
Several youth said that until they participated in the Science Matters program, they hadn’t known about careers linked to agriculture that didn’t involve growing crops or raising livestock.
“I love science. I am fascinated about the important role that agriculture products play in our lives; not just in our food supply, but how agriculture products are used in technology, fuels and many everyday products,” said Sophia New, citing such products as cotton sheets and soy-based resins used in medical equipment.
“When you think about careers in agriculture, there are so many opportunities that you might not know about, so keep digging,” Bayer’s Johnson said.