Proof Positive: Study Verifies Substantial 4-H Impact on Youth

girl working on robotics project

Editor: Ohio 4-H Week is March 2-8, 2014.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- In 1902, local school superintendent A.B. Graham recruited 103 students in Clark County, Ohio, to join a Boys and Girls Agricultural Experiment Club, considered to be the birth of 4-H in the United States. 

“Basically, if you look at the projects that A.B. Graham started with -- how to grow better plants and testing different ways to do that, and rope projects involving splicing rope and tying knots, which used basic mechanical and engineering principles -- that was what we call STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) today,” said Tom Archer. Archer is assistant director of Ohio State University Extension in charge of Ohio 4-H Youth Development. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Today, 4-H is known worldwide for its excellence in providing hands-on, experiential learning activities. And a recent report from Tufts University provides data supporting the notion that 4-H contributes to youths’ interest in science.

The report, “The Positive Development of Youth: Comprehensive Findings from the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development,” summarizes findings from data gathered from 42 states, including Ohio, and more than 7,000 participants from 2002 through 2010.

It found that youths in grades 10-12 involved in 4-H programs were twice as likely to participate in science, engineering and computer technology programs during out-of-school time as their non-4-H peers.

In addition, it found that young women in grade 12 who were involved in 4-H were three times more likely to take part in science programs than their peers who participate in other out-of-school activities.

“This shows that 4-H instills science concepts in its members, and we’re especially proud that the young women in our membership are more likely to participate in science-related activities, which means they will more likely pursue science careers,” Archer said.

Those involved in any 4-H project, whether it involves animal sciences or foods and nutrition or any of the hundreds of projects Ohio 4-H offers, are practicing science-related skills, he said.

“It’s a combination of the science of whatever project they’re working on, but also the acts of gathering information, comparing things, making decisions and explaining why they made those decisions,” he said. “That process not only reflects the STEM aspect of 4-H, but it provides leadership development, too.

“And that’s what I hear the most from the 4-H’ers I used to work with (as a 4-H educator in Shelby County). They tell me, ‘Now I understand why you had me do all that stuff. That’s what I do now in my job, in my life or for an organization I’m involved with.’ That’s why the individual, self-directed project is still integral to 4-H membership.”

The study also found that 4-H’ers in grades 7 through 12 are nearly four times more likely to make contributions to their communities as non-4-H’ers.

“Every club does some sort of community service,” Archer said, “from maintaining a community building to cleaning up highways to helping at senior assisted-care facilities. They not only give to others, but it’s usually a project where they’re working together.”

That teamwork provides a number of benefits, he said.

“It helps participants learn how to get along with different personalities, and realize that people have different talents that they can contribute,” Archer said. “It helps them understand and appreciate the different people on the team, and how to get along with others.

“And, I think we can all agree that working as a team, you can get more done. If you put six people together working on one project, you can get a lot more accomplished than if those six people worked individually.”

Other findings from the Tufts study, which began with fifth graders during 2002-2003 and ended with 12th graders in 2010, include:

  • 4-H’ers in grades 8 through 12 are twice as likely to be civically active.
  • 4-H’ers in grade 7 are twice as likely to make healthier choices, including engaging in positive activities such as exercise and healthy eating as well as avoiding problem behaviors, including smoking, drinking and bullying.

Many youths sign up for 4-H membership at this time of year, Archer said. The youngest members are “Cloverbuds,” a non-competitive program for youths age 5 or older and in kindergarten until they reach age 8 and in third grade. Membership in the traditional 4-H club program is open to youths who are at least age 8 and in the third grade as of Jan. 1 through Dec. 31 of the year they reach age 19.

To sign up for 4-H, contact your county office of OSU Extension.

To support 4-H, consider giving to Ohio State University’s Ohio 4-H Foundation Fund. Find details at


CFAES News Team
For more information, contact: 

Tom Archer