When it comes to reaching more than 88,000 West Virginia youths through 4-H Science, Technology, Engineering and Math initiatives, Jen Robertson-Honecker, Ph.D., says the formula is simple.
“You have to make learning relatable and fun,” she said.
As the STEM specialist for West Virginia University Extension Service’s 4-H Youth Development program, Robertson-Honecker does just that. She brings science programming to kids in rural communities through camp programs, events and courses.
Robertson-Honecker relies on demonstrations and exciting experiments. Her students turn into investigators, comparing pH levels in West Virginia water samples, or becoming forensic scientists through techniques like fingerprinting and simulated blood splatter analysis.
“When you’re teaching elementary-school children you really have to think outside of standard learning models,” she said. “Science can open students to a whole new world of learning and opportunities for college, careers and beyond.”
She says her goal is to make STEM relevant to the youths’ daily lives by asking them to think about and find the answers to life’s little questions.
“Why do we add salt to the roads in the winter instead of sugar? Why aren’t all creeks the same color? How do you turn a soda bottle into a rocket? These are questions kids like to explore,” she said.
In addition to working with 4-H’ers, Robertson-Honecker will also oversee the University’s STEM Ambassador Program, which employees college students studying science-related fields and sends them to 4-H camps across the state to teach each summer.
“These aren’t just college students who come in and teach our 4-H kids,” she said. “These are role models and future leaders who are showing kids that a career in science is possible. Going to college doesn’t have to be a dream; with hard work and dedication you can make it a reality.”
Robertson-Honecker earned a Ph.D. from WVU and later became a chemistry professor at her alma mater before joining WVU Extension Service in August.
Outstanding students deserve outstanding teachers, and each spring, the West Virginia University Foundation lifts up several instructors who enliven their classrooms and groom students for ultimate success.
During her time as a chemistry professor Robertson-Honecker was one of six WVU faculty members to be named an Outstanding Teacher in 2013 by the WVU Foundation.