At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, a team of New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service faculty designed and launched a new statewide program to promote science, technology, engineering, art and math education in a virtual environment. The NM STEAM Virtual Innovator Program aims to promote understanding while making personal connections to STEAM education and create a bridge between opportunity and education.
The program is open to youth statewide, ranging from the ages of five to 18 years old and encourages interest in 4-H.
To keep 4-H programs moving forward amidst COVID-19, a group of NMSU Extension faculty, consisting of Amanda Benton of Santa Fe County; Eva Madrid of Doña Ana County; Courtney Mitchell of Harding County; Brittany Sonntag of Bernalillo County; and Sierra Cain of Valencia County, formed the team and decided on the creation of a monthly virtual series. Activities are offered on a variety of STEAM topics such as computer science, physical science, engineering, art fusion and simple machines.
Six youth innovators have been leading the program for almost a year. Innovators must be part of 4-H, but the program is open to everyone across the state. Innovators take the responsibility of designing and delivering programs. Leading up the event, they work in conjunction with faculty members in the prior weeks to prepare.
“When we started the program, we had only a vague idea of what we thought we could accomplish,” said Peter Skelton, youth agriscience education specialist. “What we found was an amazing group of youth willing to take the lead and allow us to realize the potential of this program. As a result, we plan to extend the program through May of 2022 and will open the application for a new group of youth innovators in August 2022.”
NM STEAM Virtual Innovators delivers programs and activities every third Saturday morning of the month. The sessions last between one and two hours and provide projects that can be done with household items. If items are not an everyday household item, they are purchased and mailed to the families.
Through participation with NM STEAM Virtual Innovators, youth from across the state have not only increased experiential learning and interest in STEAM education, but increased community and familial bonds.
“Since projects are implemented at home, families are brought together to work on them, strengthening familial bonds and STEAM literacy in the community,” Skelton said. “Youth have indicated participation in the innovator program has provided an environment for them to communicate information to a larger audience, lead a group of youth to complete a project, work effectively with people they do not know, better serve their club, and improve their knowledge base about a suite of STEAM activities.”
A variety of additional workshops are also offered throughout the month. Skelton said they are currently working on a Food Hackathon set for Feb. 25-26, where students will be encouraged to learn to solve real world problems, such as food waste. Winners will receive funding to implement their ideas at home, in their clubs or in their communities.