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Oregon 4-H students experience hands-on science in Florida

Participants come face-to-face with alligators, sharks and snakes

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Ten high school students from Oregon’s 4-H Youth Development Program took an unforgettable trip to Florida in February to experience science up close and personal. The trip was the culmination of the 2016 South Florida Natural and Marine Science Study Tour. Students were recruited in the winter and spring of 2015 and began monthly online lessons in July 2015. Lesson content included oceanography and marine ecosystems, fish and wildlife anatomy and comparison of Oregon and Florida species and climate.

The study tour, designed for students who have an interest in natural or marine science, strives to spark a young person’s interest in these fields and help them learn the importance of teamwork. Students were accompanied by state 4-H program director Virginia Bourdeau and county 4-H staff Emily Anderson (Lane County), Robin Galloway (Linn County) and Todd Williver (Lincoln County).

The seven-day Florida trip included outdoor activities and learning experiences for the students, which included sampling the habitats the students had studied over the past seven months. They interacted with the big scrub habitat at the Archbold Biological Station in Venus, Fla. and in Everglades National Park, students saw pine flatwoods, hydric hammock, hardwood swamp, Cypress swamp, Sawgrass marsh and slough habitats.

Four days were spent at Newfound Harbor Marine Institute’s Seacamp in Big Pine Key, Fla. studying coral reef ecology and various marine ecosystems, which they accessed by boat. The students participated in three lessons each day, including a thrilling snorkel in a nurse shark pond.

Students gained knowledge and lasting memories from the trip and some now have an idea of what they would like to study in college. “Judging by the evaluation comments received from parents after the program concluded, several youth found their spark for education by participating in the program,” Virginia says. She adds that one participant plans to apply to the internship program at Archbold and another hopes to work at Seacamp someday.

“This trip to Florida was so amazing. I made so many new friends that I hope to have forever,” says participant Shannon Feinauer of Klamath County. “My favorite part at sea camp was meeting Shelby, our teacher and friend, and snorkeling the reef. We had the best chaperones!”

Faith Black of Linn County says she’s always loved the ocean and marine life. “Attending this study tour in Florida has opened my eyes to the impact we have on our ocean’s wildlife,” she says. “I was a little undecided on what I would like to study in college, and the Florida Study Tour has made me realize that I have a great interest in our marine life.”

“Getting to join the 4-H trip to Florida this year helps solidify my dreams of working in the science field,” says Korrina Wirfs of Linn County. “I applied some knowledge I already have attained and learned about other ecosystems, but as a senior I really value how the trip allowed me to see science occupation in action. This was invaluable for me as I try to decide what and where to study in college.”

The Oregon 4-H Youth Development Program is part of the Oregon State Extension Service and is housed in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences. There are more than 6 million 4-H members nationwide and thousands of Oregon young people participate in the program each year. The four Hs stand for head, heart, hands and health. More information about 4-H can be found here.