Graduate students help 4-H youth discover the excitement of science

Students in Nevada Biosciences Association lead experiments to encourage 4-H youth to pursue STEM

4-H campers doing an experiment on seedlings with graduate student

Molecular Biosciences Graduate Student Nicholas Niechayev helps 4-H campers pot seedlings during a STEM lesson on drought-tolerant plants at the Nevada 4-H Camp. Photo by Chrystle Weigand, College of Agriculture, Biotechnology & Natural Resources.

Graduate students help 4-H youth discover the excitement of science

Students in Nevada Biosciences Association lead experiments to encourage 4-H youth to pursue STEM

Molecular Biosciences Graduate Student Nicholas Niechayev helps 4-H campers pot seedlings during a STEM lesson on drought-tolerant plants at the Nevada 4-H Camp. Photo by Chrystle Weigand, College of Agriculture, Biotechnology & Natural Resources.

4-H campers doing an experiment on seedlings with graduate student

Molecular Biosciences Graduate Student Nicholas Niechayev helps 4-H campers pot seedlings during a STEM lesson on drought-tolerant plants at the Nevada 4-H Camp. Photo by Chrystle Weigand, College of Agriculture, Biotechnology & Natural Resources.

University of Nevada, Reno molecular bioscience graduate students have been working with the Nevada 4-H Camp to stimulate interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) with presentations and interactive experiments.

By teaching 4-H campers from across the state about science topics through hands-on experiments, such as about genetics by extracting and testing their own DNA, students in the University’s Nevada Biosciences Association hope to motivate youth to discover a passion for science and uncover many possibilities in the field, including career opportunities. Each year, campers rotate between several science stations, such as testing pH using purple cabbage, using yeast to understand cellular respiration, and learning about plant physiology using microscopes.

The first two years of these presentations and experiments at the 4-H Camp started under the Distinguished Women in Science Club at the University. Chrystle Weigand, Nevada Biosciences Association president, and Haley Toups, association community outreach coordinator, have carried on the work with the help of other graduate students in the Molecular Biosciences Program, a collaboration among the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology & Natural Resources; the School of Medicine; and the College of Science. To date, over 200 4-H campers have participated in this annual event.

Weigand, part of the Harper lab at the University’s Experiment Station, has led 4-H campers in experiments for the past three years to show the youth that science is exciting and accessible. “The first time I spoke to the students, all I felt was excitement,” Weigand said. “I wanted to show them that they’re already scientists since they’ve been discovering and experimenting since they were born.”

The impact of this outreach has been critical to 4-H participants. Parents have mentioned the appreciation at some of the experiments addressing the topic of climate change and allowing the participants a safe space to ask questions. Some of the students have also decided to choose science as a major because of the opportunity to engage with the different experiments.

“Having citizens knowledgeable about STEM fields is so important, especially in our science-based culture,” said Jeffrey Harper, a biochemistry professor in the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology & Natural Resources. “Education about science from a young age is critical so that kids want to engage and participate instead of writing it off as too hard or confusing to understand.”

Harper’s lab has been one of the main supports for Weigand’s outreach efforts through the association, with additional support by the labs of Grant Cramer and Cyprian Rossetto, research professors within the Molecular Biosciences Program. These professors have encouraged STEM outreach through their support of students conducting these presentations and by providing supplies for experiments. Nevada Biosciences Association members look forward to working with the 4-H camp again this year and will begin planning this spring.

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