Google representatives and Gov. Bruce Rauner met today at the Illinois State Fair to announce the company’s donation of $1.5 million in funding support and virtual reality equipment to support 4-H youth science programs across the U.S., including Illinois.
Youth in Illinois’ 4-H programs will use the donated virtual reality kits and Google Chromebooks for three-dimensional learning experiences set in locations all over the world. Illinois 4-H will use the funding from Google to purchase drones and cameras to create additional virtual reality experiences for the program, including a new farm expedition.
The announcement was made at the Illinois 4-H State Fair General Project Show, which draws 4,000 youth participants and 20,000 4-H friends and family.
Together with National 4-H Council President Jennifer Sirangelo, Illinois 4-H STEM Extension Specialist Keith Jacobs participated in the announcement and will manage the program rollout.
Jacobs said, “We are honored that Google has chosen 4-H to be its major partner for computer science education. Nationally, 4-H is the largest out-of-school programming organization, so this is what we do.
“The VR will allow the kids to take expeditions to different places around the globe. Imagine being able to travel through the Great Barrier Reef, and having your teacher point out specific details. You can look up, down left right and the teachers can point out what they need to.”
STEM education – science, technology, engineering and math – is a fast growing program area for Illinois 4-H, with youth completing more than 7,500 robotics projects in 2016.
One of those participants was Russell Moore III, who spoke at the announcement crediting Illinois 4-H with helping him find his career path. “4-H saw my potential in STEM, and created a safe space for me to grow those skills,” said Moore, who will be attending college on a full scholarship to Lincoln Land Community College. “Because of 4-H, I’ve started my journey towards my dream career in the field of computer science.”
Jacobs says the 4-H focus on STEM education is an important area for career preparedness. “We’re teaching our youth now so that when technology changes come, they’re ready to adapt and work in those fields.”
Illinois 4-H Director Lisa Diaz said, “4-H is all about getting kids ready for life, and STEM is a big part of that because of the increasing number of STEM jobs in Illinois and across the country. 96 percent of 4-H members say they like science and want to learn more about it. Undertaking a challenging STEM project, such as building a robot, lets them learn how to think through their options, test them, and keep improving their designs.”