COLUMBIA Mo. – Missouri 4-H President Dustin Oehl embodies the findings of a newly released study on the merits of 4-H.
Oehl, a freshman at the University of Missouri, made his first trip to campus as part of a 4-H group when he was 9. Throughout his participation in 4-H, he has made repeated trips to the campus, and that played a large part in his choice of colleges.
A Tufts University study shows that 4-H members are 70 percent more likely to attend college and 20 percent more likely to graduate from college than their non-4-H peers.
Oehl grew up on a diversified multigenerational farm in Friedheim in Cape Girardeau County. Friedheim is so small there is no population sign and there were only 22 students in Oak Ridge High School when Oehl graduated as valedictorian.
His parents pushed him to be active in the Arnsberg 4-H Club from age 5. His father and grandfather had been 4-H members, and they recognized 4-H’s core values of clear thinking, loyalty, service and health.
Through 4-H, he’s learned about rabbits, goats, gardening, poultry, computers and quilting. While 4-H still offers those traditional projects, there are many new science and technology programs, including robotics, aerospace and geospatial science. The new options encourage those interested in science to participate in 4-H clubs, and 4-H members are 40 percent more likely to pursue science, engineering or computer technology courses or careers.
The trend toward science and technology projects also encourages a wider range of youth to join 4-H, he said. Once, 4-H was considered only for farm kids, but that is not the case today, Oehl said. “4-H is for everybody. 4-H is like life. Whatever you put into it, you’re going to get out of it. “
More important than the knowledge learned in 4-H programs are habits of discipline and responsibility, Oehl said. “We’re teaching project skills at the same time we’re teaching life skills,” he said “4-H programs are teaching us to be more prepared.”
Oehl said 4-H opened a whole new world to him. He remembers waking up at 2:30 a.m. to make the trip from the family farm to the University of Missouri campus for the first time. “I was in awe,” he said. He also took his first airplane flight and first subway ride as a 4-H member visiting Washington, D.C. Numerous visits to campus as part of the 4-H program made him feel comfortable at the large land-grant university where there are half as many students on campus as there are in all of Cape Girardeau County. “When you visit campus, there is a connection, and that helps you choose to go to college, whether it be MU or somewhere else after graduation,” he said.
Despite being one of 500 students in his first lecture class at MU, Oehl said he was able to make an identity for himself and not get lost in the crowd. “4-H has helped me do that,” he said, by continued leadership activities on campus and through his work-study job at Clark Hall, where the University of Missouri 4-H offices are located. “It’s good to be able to go into a place where there are 35,000 students and be able to know people,” he said.
Oehl will end his year as president in May due to age limits, but he plans to continue involvement as an adult volunteer. “Revolution of Responsibility” is the new national 4-H theme.
4-H is a community of 6 million young people across America learning leadership, citizenship and life skills. The National 4-H Council is the private-sector, nonprofit partner of 4-H National Headquarters, located at the National Institute of Food and Agriculture within USDA. The 111 land-grant colleges and universities and the Cooperative Extension System through 3,100 local extension offices implement 4-H programs across the country.
For more information, go to http://extension.missouri.edu/4h/ or contact your local MU Extension center.