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K-State Research and Extension
123 Umberger Hall
Manhattan, KS 66506-3401

October 12, 2021

AD ASTRA PER ASPERA: My Five Years at Kansas 4-H

Submitted by Wade M Weber


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Starting with K-State Open House in the Spring of 2017 to the conclusion of the 2021 Kansas State Fair, the roller coaster that has been the last 5 years within Kansas 4-H has been significant and in many cases unlike anything we have known professionally. Externally, the challenges have not been small - declining university and state revenue, political infighting and divisiveness, racial tension, high profile cases of child protection mismanagement affecting University Policy direction, the retirement tsunami, 4Honline vendor upgrades, COVID-19 pandemic and now the resignation tsunami affecting extension’s professional and volunteer resources.

Internally, we have experienced professional transitions – team members coming and going. Not just in the 4-H Department, but also in Extension Administration and in local extension units across the state. As a system, we have debated, discussed and disagreed about programmatic direction and decisions each of these last 5 years: from the Statewide 4-H Program Fee to staffing priorities - from 4-H Camp to specialists expectations. But to our credit as a system, we have kept engaging, kept talking, kept doing – purposing to build the future of Kansas communities through 4-H programming.

Professionally, I have been guided by the hiring directives listed on the first page, 4-H Youth Department 2025 plan, 2017 4-H Program Prioritization process, 2018 KSRE priorities from Dr. Hadley’s listening sessions, and the collaborative programmatic efforts in response to COVID-19.

On the pages that follow, you will read select accomplishments that have fulfilled those goals and priorities. Inevitably, this listing is not exhaustive. There are many collaborative accomplishments and staff efforts that are not listed here. It is with a spirit of respect, humility, and appreciation that I acknowledge that there are many more examples that have positively impacted Kansas 4-H over the past five years.

People are believing that our new ideas are worth funding. Through Kansas 4-H Foundation Expansion Grants and National 4-H Grants, collaborative efforts between state and local programs laid the groundwork for recent Innovation, Forward and Resiliency grant work from national and statewide donors who believe and are investing in the future of Kansas 4-H.

Innovative work that is engaging new audiences, expanding project areas, and redefining partnership between the university and local communities. From accommodations processes that are enabling youth who are differently abled to participate in 4-H programming more fully to new 4-H programming experiences that engage underserved populations all across Kansas, more and more examples emerge day by day. Most recently, I have hired two Latina student workers in the state office who are in college at K-State directly because of their engagement with and leadership in local 4-H programming and Community Conversations. Before 4-H they did not know if college could be for them, but because of 4-H, they are writing a new chapter to their lives that was previously unreachable.

Recontextualizing citizenship and leadership development in a changing world through 4-H is goal of Community Conversations series that has been developed since 2017. Starting with Conversation Bootcamps and growing to involve facilitation training with the Institute of Civil Discourse and Democracy, this programmatic effort guides youth to navigate challenging topics constructively with civility. Programmatic efforts grew across the state and have been embodied within the annual Citizenship in Action event in Topeka. This programmatic foundation enabled a partnership with the Kansas Leadership Center’s Beat the Virus virtual facilitation campaign in the winter of 2020. In 2020, as efforts moved online, Kansas 4-H partnered with the Beach Museum of Art to utilize Visual Teaching Strategies in the virtual program, Stories Matter, one of 13 first round national grants funded in July of 2020.

Adapting and surviving characterized 2020 and 2021. I directed specialists to form four working groups of agents who voluntarily worked together to discover solutions in the areas of Club and Project Support, Camp, Fairs & Alternative Showcasing, and Professional Development. These teams did phenomenal work. Because of their dedication and creativity, innovations in club support, virtual camping, showcasing alternatives at fairs, and strategic professional development emerged enabling all Kansas 4-H youth to have an opportunity for their projects to be evaluated and recognized at both the county and state fair level. This was no small feat, and the whole KSRE team of professionals and community volunteers are to be commended for doing well for youth and fulfilling the 4-H mission amid dynamic and unpredictable circumstances.

Refreshing and strengthening existing 4-H programming with clear life and career readiness skill development is essential to fulfilling the 4-H Youth Development Mission. Since 2017, we are strengthening the curriculum base for available 4-H project-based learning, mapping youth engagement along a project pathway of learning, connecting with the latest youth development science around the 4-H THRIVE model, creating more attractive/accessible project sheets to guide parent and youth involvement, clarifying project/exhibit evaluation rubrics, and strengthening our connection to university partners.

Any one of the external or internal challenges listed previously disrupts predictive processes and planning. To have all of these impacting the 4-H program since 2017 is substantive. I applaud and commend all the dedicated professionals across KSRE who are piloting new planning process at every level of our organization. Engagement is crucial and building out together step by step will be key to growing back program momentum and professional progress. Guiding 4-H professionals to work together to concretely work on projects around professional development, showcasing, camp, and club enhancement and support have been key steppingstones to engaging youth, families, and volunteers over the last 18 months.

In the coming months, I will be inviting KSRE staff to work together to fill in our project pathways and involve KSRE professionals in helping shape the next steps in 4-H program planning and direction. I have constituted an agent advisory team, representing all three regions, to work thought planning, communication, and implementation strategies. We will continue to build upon the legacy and previous practices in Kansas 4-H with an eye towards career/college readiness, university connectedness, accessibility to new generation 4-Hers, childhood and adolescent health and wellness, and an integration of positive youth development’s THRIVE research.

I will continue to grow the KSRE partnership with the Kansas 4-H Foundation in growing our 4-H camping program, Shooting Sports Education program, Science of Agriculture Challenge, State 4-H Contests, Scholarship and Award recognition programs, and Innovation Grants. Kansas 4-H will also launch an unprecedented partnership (funding for $4.2 million over 3 years) with the Department of Education for a summer internship and local unit 4-H youth programming effort around career and college readiness, led by Specialist Shane Potter, utilizing the signature program curriculum around facilitation.

Foundationally I will continue with Three Primary Objectives for 2021-22

As we increase in-person activity:
            • Affirm Positive Youth Development Program Principles
            • Build upon signature programs in Communication, Civic Engagement and Healthy Living
            • Increase Evaluation tools to measure impact
            • Equip professionals with conflict management tools
            • Keep blending appropriate virtual learning and youth engagement

Strengthen Connection to K-State
            • 4-H Projects to Kansas Careers
            • Learning Pathways with K-State
            • Connect to K-State’s Strategic Enrollment Management Plan

Illustrate the Benefit of 4-H to Kansas Communities
           • Reporting signature program impacts
           • Local Extension Unit volunteer and community service
           • Connect to the campus value of community engagement

 Our method is changing but our mission remains the same.

Transitions and change are always difficult. After all, this is what extension programs are all about – introducing change and helping people adopt change into their lives, livelihoods, families, and communities. But we, as extension professionals and stakeholders, continue to persist and engage, even in the face of challenge, because we believe in our mission to serve Kansas communities through quality extension programs.

Together, we will continue to shape the future of Kansas 4-H Youth Development.

I will conclude with the State of Kansas Motto:

AD ASTRA PER ASPERA, to the stars through difficulty


Together Let’s Make the Best Even Better!