SAINT PAUL, Minn. – During the 2019 Minnesota State Fair, AT&T presented the University of Minnesota 4-H Youth Development program with a foundation grant to increase the number of youth programs in the Twin Cities and Moorhead area. This is the second grant AT&T has awarded Minnesota 4-H.
In partnership with Ka Joog, a nationally recognized non-profit that works with Somali American communities focusing on youth development and enrichment, Minnesota 4-H is building STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) clubs that focus on engaging youth in Somali American communities.
“It all started with a needs assessment that happened about 10 years ago,” said Jennifer A. Skuza, Minnesota 4-H state director. “We had conversations with middle school aged youth who were living in the urban area.”
Many of these students did not see themselves as college students after high school graduation.
“A common theme was that they were very nervous about their futures and they didn't feel as though they were going to be successful in college,” said Skuza. “They had few connections to anyone who had success in college before or they hadn't known anyone who ever stepped foot on a campus. But they knew the importance of having an education.”
Minnesota 4-H also realized that most college and university programs designed to get youth interested and excited about college focused on high school aged youth, not middle school.
As the needs assessment expanded into looking at which areas in Minnesota and the Twin Cities required the most focus, they also looked at who they could partner with to expand 4-H to these areas.
Given that Minnesota has one of the largest Somali American communities in the nation, the partnership between Minnesota 4-H and Ka Joog was a perfect fit.
“Ka Joog had been successfully implementing youth programs with Somali American youth and families for many years. Mohamed Farah, the executive director of Ka Joog, sought to partner with 4-H as a way to strengthen their programming and make connections to higher education,” said Joanna Tzenis, Extension educator overseeing the Ka Joog 4-H programs. “We couldn't have done this alone; they couldn't have done this without us, and we could not have done it without Ka Joog.”
The result of the program have been the formation of STEAM clubs in urban Somali American communities.
“We've been implementing STEAM clubs in the Twin Cities for the past six years,” said Skuza. “We received two grants from AT&T; we are so grateful for their help in building out this model.”
With the funding from the AT&T grant, as well as a federal grant Minnesota 4-H received, Ka Joog 4-H STEAM clubs will extend to the Moorhead area where there is a growing population of Somali American families.
“We'll be starting those programs and we'll also working with families and youth, helping to bring them together,” said Tzenis.
By working with both the youth and their parents, these programs can address a growing cultural gap between youth raised in the United States and their parents who were not.
4-H STEAM clubs function very similarly to other 4-H clubs. They take place during non-school hours and focus on youth interests. Youth in the STEAM clubs have access to all the same programs and opportunities as other Minnesota 4-H youth.
The STEAM club’s curriculum focuses on developing scientific reasoning, engineering design and thinking skills.
“What's really nice about the art component in the STEAM club is that our partner, Ka Joog, brings cultural arts, performing art, spoken word, and other forms of art that are reflective of the Somali American culture,” said Skuza.
The big event for 4-H STEAM club members in the Twin Cities area, and soon the Moorhead area, is an overnight, college immersion experience. This is when the youth come to the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus and get to fully experience what college life is like. Soon Minnesota 4-H will be developing a campus immersion on the University of Minnesota Crookston campus for youth living in the Moorhead area.
They stay in the dorms, eat in the student cafeteria, attend lectures by professors. They get to meet other students and learn about their college experiences.
“We've tested field trips, day camps and campus activities that don't have an overnight component and they're engaging, but they don't have the impact, especially the lasting impact in terms of really helping young people to make that switch and say, ‘Yeah, I think college is for me and I think I could be comfortable here on this campus,’” Skuza said.
The goal of this program has been to plant the seeds of higher education through 4-H Youth Development and help youth envision themselves pursuing their education and career.
The campus immersion experience started six years ago with the 4-H STEAM clubs, and now those first-year middle schoolers are graduating high school.
“They're at that point where they're graduating from high school, so we can really see what difference this program made in terms of their college choice, the programs that they're going into and even the admission rates,” said Skuza. “We plan to monitor that very carefully and are excited to do that over the next five years.”