University of Maryland Extension

Expanding Adventures in Science

Two Adventures in Science students working on an oyster disection.
Image Credit: 
Laura A. Manzi

Parents today are often under a great deal of pressure to help their kids keep up with technology while simultaneously fostering creativity and critical thinking skills. Meanwhile, a shortage of young adults pursuing careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), persists across the county.

That’s why Maryland 4-H Youth Development is working to become part of the solution by expanding the Adventures in Science program to Prince George’s County. Geared toward middle school youth, Adventures in Science aims to inspire youngsters with interactive science lessons to encourage them to stay connected to and interested in science throughout high school and college.

 “Expanding this program into Prince George’s County has given 4-H the opportunity to partner with university professors and government institutions such as USDA and NASA…[and] engage with the local community,” said Laura Manzi, 4-H Extension Educator in Prince George’s County. “This is a perfect fit for middle school youth…[because]  middle school is the age at which many young teens either become very interested in science or are totally turned off by it.”

The Adventures in Science program was created in 1973 by NASA employee Dr. Ralph R. Nash. Nash provided neighborhood children with hands-on learning opportunities in science and math, and when interest grew beyond what his basement could house, the program expanded into the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and a not-for-profit organization of volunteers named Adventure in Science (AIS).

The Montgomery County 4-H Youth Development Program has been offering Adventures in Science (AIS) for the past 25 years, reaching about 6,000-8,000 youth and adults in Montgomery County. AIS has also been available in Baltimore City and Frederick County here in Maryland but can be found as far away as Michigan.  Prince George’s County Extension started offering the program in the spring of 2011.

“Expansion (into Prince George’s County) benefits the program because it connects the science and technology agencies to the community,” Alganesh Piechocinski, 4-H Extension Educator in Montgomery County, said. “It helps the scientists to share their expertise and work with youth, [as well as] help the youth and their families to get involved to understand the science around us.”

All middle school-aged children, regardless of where they attend school, are welcomed and encouraged to participate in Adventures in Science; run by two to five volunteer instructors/UMD professors/parents per site and coordinated by employees of NIST, the National Institute of Health, Lockheed Martin, and Johns Hopkins University.  The Prince George’s spring program begins on March 7th, 2015, and will be hosted at the University of Maryland College Park for seven consecutive weeks. Registration operates on a first come, first served basis, and there are only a handful of open spots left for the spring program.  

“All of the workshops provide an experience that isn’t typical of school curricula...[and children] also have the opportunity to learn on a college campus,” Manzi said. “We believe that by encouraging local youth to participate in campus offerings at a young age, they will be more likely to develop a greater interest in higher education in the future.”

Youth participants develop skills in scientific inquiry by conducting a variety of experiments; specifically including kitchen chemistry, biotechnology, entomology, marine ecosystems, animal, plant and soil science, heliophysics, climate change and aerospace. Favorites have included oyster dissection, constructing potato boxes and planting them in the public health garden on campus, building rockets, and examining soil and its organisms.

 “As a parent, I love that the 4-H Adventures in Science helps kids from all backgrounds and all interests see the practical applications of science in their daily lives,” said Zahra Ahmed, a Prince George’s County parent. “A couple of my friends commented on how their kids, who were not very interested in science before, had become very enthusiastic about it after the program.”

“I believe that our youth should be offered more programs such as this one in order to expose them to more of the world around them,” Ahmed continued. “Getting the kids out of the house and working with other kids and doing hands-on activities are great ways to keep them thinking and learning and become motivated.”

Ahmed’s 6th grade son participated in last year’s fall and spring Adventures in Science program, and is currently registered to participate in the upcoming spring Prince George’s program.

“The goal is certainly to grow this program within Maryland and beyond [as] there are college campuses all over the state, and therefore the potential to host the Adventures in Science program,” Manzi concluded. “Inspiring the next generation of scientists is critical to our communities. We need skilled scientists to solve the future challenges of our world.”

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