The world around us is changing at a rapid pace. With new technologies and innovative programs, the way companies do business and the skillsets they demand is also changing.

Enter West Virginia University Extension Service’s 4-H Youth Development program. The group was selected – for a second year in a row – to help pique the curiosity and interest of students all over the United States through the 4-H National Youth Science Day challenge. Beginning in October, experts and volunteers from 4-H will bring hands-on programs and activities to students, including West Virginia, as part of “Game Changers,” this year’s science challenge.

Teaming with Google and National 4-H, WVU Extension Service helped create and design computer science activities for kids ages 8-14. The activities will be taken to schools, after-school programs, 4-H clubs and other events to show students how to use computer science to create games, solve problems and engage with topics they are passionate about.

Game Changers uses physical activity and puzzles to teach kids important computer science concepts and problem-solving skills, creating real-world connections between computer science and civic engagement, healthy living, and agriculture. The challenge includes one computer-based and two “unplugged” activities to help kids learn computer science and can be completed without internet access. More than 10,000 Game Changers kits will be distributed nationwide, including 500 kits in West Virginia.

“As businesses and organizations work to keep up with the ever-changing needs of the industry, and their clients, having exposure to computer-science skills at an early age really provides students with a competitive advantage. STEM-related knowledge is interwoven in everything we do, and Game Changers is a great opportunity to encourage curiosity in a fun, interactive way that allows young people to look at how we can use these computer science applications to focus on social issues or solve problems,” said Jennifer Robertson-Honecker, associate professor and STEM specialist, WVU Extension Service. “Last year we were able to reach more than 7,000 West Virginia students and this year we are hoping to expand this outreach to engage more than 10,000 youths throughout the state, as well as grow our reach nationwide. We are thrilled to partner with Google and National 4-H to bring this critical programming to students.”

In 2018, WVU’s 4-H program led the “Code Your World” NYSD challenge. More than 200,000 students nationwide learned basic computer science concepts through both plugged and unplugged activities. WVU Extension Service 4-H agents, as well as teachers and other volunteers, taught coding to more than 7,000 West Virginia youths through in- and out-of-school activities. The WVU Extension Service 4-H program is the first land-grant university to be selected two years in a row to lead the NYSD challenge via a competitive selection process conducted by the National 4-H Council, USDA-NIFA and Google.

Funding to distribute 500 free Game Changers’ kits to state school teachers, librarians, and afterschool providers was provided by the STEM-CARE initiative. STEM-CARE is a collaboration between Mylan and West Virginia University to develop and implement programming to instill a growth mindset in West Virginia’s youths through personal application of problem-solving skills gained from science, technology, engineering and math.

NYSD is aligned with WVU’s focus on providing STEM readiness, including programs like WVU Teach, the WVU Center for Excellence in STEM’s CodeWV and opportunities through the WVU Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resource’s Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering. The activity also provides opportunities for additional partnerships with companies and organizations who support STEM initiatives.

Driving STEM education and outreach in West Virginia to steadily build a robust talent pipeline is one example of moving West Virginia forward. By providing West Virginia students with more opportunities to learn about STEM fields, including computer science, the more prepared they will be for future educational, entrepreneurial and long-term career opportunities.

West Virginia Forward is a statewide collaboration led by West Virginia University, the state Department of Commerce and Marshall University to help grow the economy by adding jobs, investing in education and improving health and wellness to create the most prosperous West Virginia possible.

WVU Extension Service’s 4-H program is located in all 55 counties in West Virginia and serves more than 60,000 youths through clubs, camps and school-based programming.