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It is estimated that 20% of U.S. jobs require advanced STEM knowledge and skills (Rothwell 2013). In the United States, there are two concerns about this trend. First, there is an overall shortage of qualified workers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (Burke and Mattis 2007). In other words, not enough youth and young adults are seeking education and degrees to meet the future STEM workforce needs (Mau 2016). Second, women and certain racial or ethnic groups are underrepresented in STEM education and careers (Burke 2007; Mau 2016).

“The 4-H Science: Building a 4-H STEM Career Pathway Initiative” was a collaboration between the National 4-H Council and Lockheed Martin to help youth develop STEM and workforce skills necessary for success, to immerse youth in the field of STEM work, and to engage youth with the STEM career pathway. The project sought to prepare more youth for STEM professions. The three-year initiative was aimed at underserved youth, particularly girls and minorities, who are underrepresented in STEM advanced education and careers (National Science Foundation 2013). The goal was for Extension 4-H professionals in 13 states, collaborating with 500 corporate volunteers and 1,000 4-H community volunteers, to involve 30,000 youth in 4-H STEM experiential learning activities and programs.

As a theoretical basis for this initiative, National 4-H Council’s STEM Career Pathway (2015) proposed a four-phase model to link 4-H STEM to future careers. The first phase—explore— involved youth in introductory, short-term STEM projects focused on underrepresented communities. This phase was characterized by engineers (corporate volunteers) teaching youth in activities such as National Youth Science Day (NYSD). The next phase—learn—involved long-term experiences to engage more girls and underrepresented youth in engineering. The third phase—practice—was composed of long-term, rigorous projects in which youth build STEM and leadership skills in preparation for a college STEM major. In the final phase—experience—youth collaborated with corporate volunteers to understand careers and gain marketable experience through training, shadowing, internships, and other career readiness activities.

The major goals of the 4-H Science: Building a 4-H STEM Career Pathway Initiative were (a) to provide youth with STEM education; (b) to engage youth, especially girls and minorities, in STEM and college and career readiness; (c) to involve Extension 4-H professionals, corporate volunteers (with STEM expertise), and 4-H community volunteers in 4-H STEM programs; and (d) to realize the 4-H STEM Career Pathway. This summary is drawn from the initiative’s final report by Donaldson and Franck (2018).

Purpose / Goals

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A process evaluation of the 4-H Science: Building a 4-H STEM Career Pathway Initiative was conducted. The overall purposes of the process evaluation were (a) to track the initiative’s implementation; (b) to describe the extent to which the initiative goals were being met; and (c) to evaluate the 4-H Career Pathway for implementation beyond the pilot states involved in this initiative. Specifically, the objectives were to document the extent to which the overall project goals were achieved.


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With input from state grantees and stakeholders involved at the local level, researchers designed a process evaluation that incorporated several methods to measure performance. Methods included monthly activity reports; focus groups with Lockheed Martin employees, Extension 4-H professionals, 4-H community volunteers, and 4-H youth and parents; observations of 4-H STEM programs; and youth surveys.

Findings / Conclusions

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To what extent did the initiative provide youth education related to science and engineering?

4-H STEM activities were engaging, successful, and provided hands-on and supportive opportunities that involved diverse youth and reinforced knowledge and content from school science classes.

  • “One of the things that I’ve found with 4-H is that the camp, the management, and the Lockheed team—they’re so accessible. They want to help you ... I think that’s phenomenal because you don’t get that in a lot of places—that patience and desire to teach and to share their knowledge.” — 4-H Parent
  • “I definitely learn more through 4-H robotics than I do in school ... Robotics gives me the opportunity to be challenged and experience real world problems and try to solve them.” — 4-H Youth

To what extent did the initiative engage the targeted youth population of girls and minorities?

More than 89,000 youth were reached through this initiative; 48% were female and 53% identified as racial/ethnic minority groups. More than 78% of youth reported that they were in their first year of 4-H participation, indicating that the STEM initiative reached new audiences that might not otherwise have been involved in 4-H.

  • “[My daughter]’s always wanted to do something with animals and something science or technology related ... and she realized that [4-H] was a good opportunity for her to explore that before college and really see if it was, you know, something she wanted to do or go another route.” — 4-H Parent

To what extent did the initiative involve Extension 4-H professionals, corporate volunteers, and 4-H community volunteers?

A total of 521 Lockheed Martin employees and 3,679 4-H community volunteers contributed more than 16,300 hours to 4-H STEM programs and activities over the three-year period. Annually, the typical Extension 4-H professional managed 214 community volunteers and engaged 30 Lockheed Martin employees who collectively reached more than 5,200 youth. This degree of participation underscored that 4-H youth development programs are a good investment because 4-H mobilizes adults, organizations, and communities for positive youth development.

  • “We really benefit as a company doing these things. I mean, the employees, all of us have the desire and to give employees the chance to do this and fit it into their work schedule and get support for it is very rewarding.” — Corporate Volunteer
  • “I like teaching, and it’s fun interacting with kids, and I think that it’s also a valuable thing because it can really affect kids’ interests and change what they want to pursue.” — 4-H Community Volunteer

The major needs for professional and volunteer development were identified and described, as this information is important for understanding how to implement the 4-H Career Pathway beyond the pilot states. First, 4-H professionals described how ongoing professional development in cultural competence was important to understand different cultures and involve diverse youth in 4-H programs. Second, several 4-H professionals identified their limited knowledge and skills related to STEM subject matter. They also felt that many potential community volunteers lacked these skills and abilities. Third, Extension 4-H professionals and corporate volunteers expressed that corporate volunteers needed background information in working with youth audiences, specifically what to expect and how to teach different ages.

  • “When we find that expert, they can’t talk to the kids. They want to pile on all the information at once, and that’s when the kids get overwhelmed ... they’re no longer having fun, so they’re going to trickle away. So finding that balance is difficult.” — Extension 4-H Professional
  • “Break it down by age group like for the Science Day. We didn’t know the age group; it was like such a wide range. And it would have been helpful if there’s about five in this group and ten in this group, and then maybe some common behaviors for that group. Where like studies show their attention span is three minutes. That would have been helpful because in those two minutes you’ll lose them if you’re just saying hi how are you.” — Corporate Volunteer

To what extent did the initiative realize the 4-H STEM Career Pathway?

The 4-H STEM Career Pathway showed promise for empowering youth to achieve the attitudes, aspirations, and skills needed for successful STEM careers.

  • “I would [recommend this program to other youth] because you can like, it can help them get more interested, and then maybe in the future we can get a job in it.” — 4-H Youth
  • “It’s an activity that they can use with their heads and they’re thinking and science skills and maybe go to college for it.” — 4-H Parent

Post-program youth survey results demonstrated high levels of interest in science in school and as a future career:

  • 96% now like science.
  • 95% believe that science will be important in their future.
  • 83% taught others about science.
  • 71% helped with a community service project that related to science.

Successful practices for involving girls and minorities included:

  • locating 4-H STEM programs in underserved communities,
  • partnering with community agencies serving girls and minority youth,
  • recruiting adult role models from professional service groups such as Society of Women Engineers and the National Society of Black Engineers, and
  • involving local university faculty and students as volunteers.

Interviews with Extension 4-H professionals indicated that while they had positive perceptions of the four-part 4-H STEM Career Pathway (explore, learn, practice, and experience), they desired clearer definitions. The 4-H professionals discussed the need to provide mentorship, job shadowing, internships, and other career development activities for youth.

  • “I would love to see the pathway a little more developed and articulated. We spent a lot of time talking about what’s the difference between learn and practice. And at what point are we bumping somebody into experience? It’s like we’ve kind of come up with our own criteria for what that means, which, you know, I think more details would be helpful ... I feel like the theory and the potential of the pathway is not articulated well enough.” — Extension 4-H Professional


Our most critical recommendation from the process evaluation is to expand 4-H STEM programming throughout the country. Every corporate volunteer, community volunteer, and Extension 4-H professional interviewed for this process evaluation recommended broader implementation of the initiative. 4-H STEM Career Pathway programs may ultimately contribute to a robust pipeline for STEM professions in high demand. The other major recommendations from the initiative include the following proposed actions:

  • Engage corporate volunteers with STEM expertise. Extension 4-H youth professionals should explore virtual career development and similar technologies that could link STEM professionals to 4-H youth and further promote STEM activities in 4-H.
  • Provide professional and volunteer development. Substantive professional and volunteer development are needed to increase knowledge in science and engineering, youth development (including being able to speak at the youths’ level), pedagogy, and cultural competency.
  • Provide substantive 4-H STEM curricula. 4-H STEM curricula such as Build Your Future, Click2SciencePD, and Couragion show great promise for empowering 4-H professionals and volunteers to improve their ability to connect 4-H STEM projects to real-world jobs and educational pathways for youth. These programs need to be marketed extensively to 4-H professionals.
  • Utilize the 4-H STEM Career Pathway. 4-H youth development programs need a greater focus on the practice and experience phases of the career pathway in order to promote career and college readiness. The 4-H STEM Career Pathway, in the context of experiential learning, should be used to drive all future programming efforts. As part of this initiative, an Enhanced 4-H STEM Career Pathway for Youth Success was crafted to address the need for clear definitions (Table 1).

Table 1. Enhanced 4-H STEM career pathway for youth success.




Career Experience

Youth Grade in School

4th–12th grades

8th–12th grades


Youth explore concepts to develop awareness in STEM, college, and career readiness for 21st century success.

Youth learn skills and abilities in STEM, college, and career readiness for 21st century success.

Youth practice and apply real world skills and abilities in STEM, college, and career readiness for 21st century success.

Youth gain career experience in STEM that informs their college and career readiness for 21st century success.


Youth will:

  • express interest and be engaged in science-related activities.
  • express positive attitudes about science.

Youth will:

  • demonstrate a capacity for science process skills.
  • see science in their futures and recognize the relevance of science.
  • express positive attitudes about engineering.
  • demonstrate a capacity for engineering skills.

Youth will:

  • draw connections to real-world concepts and situations.*
  • discuss STEM careers and their educational pathways.*
  • apply science skills to issues in their community.
  • make contributions to their peers, families, and communities.

Youth will:

  • demonstrate professional communication appropriate to the academic and workplace context.
  • demonstrate the social, emotional, character, and leadership skills necessary for academic or workplace success.
  • make informed decisions about college aspirations that are personally meaningful.
    • make informed decisions about career aspirations that are personally meaningful.

*These outcomes are from Out-of-School Time (OST) Observation Instrument: Report of the Validation Study by E.M. Pechman, M.B. Mielke, C.A. Russell, R.N. White, and N. Cooe. 2008. Washington, DC: Policy Studies Associates.

All other outcomes are from National 4-H Council Common Measures (2017).


Skip to Summary

A strong need exists for youth development programs that provide for the integrated development of STEM, college, and career readiness skills among youth— especially girls and youth from minority racial or ethnic groups. The 4-H Science: Building a 4-H STEM Career Pathway Initiative promoted STEM knowledge and careers through a variety of effective programs. Expansion of the initiative to all states and territories is recommended because systematic 4-H STEM programming, combined with effective career pathways, could strengthen 4-H outcomes, including a more robust STEM workforce nationwide.

See the full report for additional background, methods, findings, conclusions, and recommendations:

4-H Science: Building a 4-H Career Pathway Initiative by J.L. Donaldson and K.L. Franck. 2018. University of Tennessee Extension Publication W668.


Skip to Acknowledgments

We are grateful for the generous support of Lockheed Martin Corporation and the National 4-H Council. The institutions leading the project through their respective state Extension 4-H programs were Auburn University, University of Arkansas, University of California, Colorado State University, University of Florida, University of Georgia, University of Kentucky, University of Maryland, Rutgers University, Cornell University, Pennsylvania State University, Texas A&M University, and Washington State University.


Skip to References

Burke, R.J. 2007. “Women and Minorities in STEM: A Primer.” In Women and Minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics: Upping the Numbers, edited by R.J. Burke and M.C. Mattis. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Donaldson, J.L. and K.L. Franck. 2018. 4-H Science: Building a 4-H Career Pathway Initiative. University of Tennessee Extension publication W668.

Mau, W.J. 2016. “Characteristics of US Students That Pursued a STEM Major and Factors That Predicted Their Persistence in Degree Completion.” Universal Journal of Educational Research 4, no. 6: 1495–1500.

National 4-H Council. 2015. STEM Career Pathway. Retrieved from

National 4-H Council. 2017. National 4-H Common Measures 2.0 Reference Table. Retrieved from

National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. 2013. Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 2013. Special Report NSF 13–304. Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation.

Pechman, E.M., M.B. Mielke, C.A. Russell, R.N. White, and N. Cooe. 2008. Out-of-School Time (OST) Observation Instrument: Report of the Validation Study. Washington, DC: Policy Studies Associates.

Rothwell, J. 2013. The Hidden STEM Economy. Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.


Extension Education Specialist and Assistant Professor
Agricultural & Human Sciences
Assistant Extension Professor
University of Tennessee

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Publication date: Oct. 16, 2020

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