Sublette County welcomes Harrison as new 4-H/youth development extension educator

Sublette County’s new 4-H/Youth Development Extension Educator Steve Harrison is working at the University of Wyoming Extension Office.

PINEDALE – 4-H is in Steve Harrison’s

blood. He started out with the organization

as a young kid growing up on a small cattle

and hog operation in Idaho. Every summer

was spent working on projects through the

local 4-H, and judging livestock competitions

left a particularly strong impression on


Harrison’s experiences growing up with

4-H inspired him to pursue a career with

the organization. He received a bachelor’s

degree in animal science and a master’s

degree in agricultural economics from

Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

After graduation, Harrison spent 25 years

working as the extension coordinator for the

University of Idaho in southeast Idaho. He

specialized in agricultural finance programs

for local farmers and wrote livestock and

animal science curriculums for the 4-H.

But Harrison’s favorite part of the job was

working with young people on 4-H projects.

“My job is rewarding when I get to see

kids grow as they take advantage of the opportunities

offered by the 4-H,” he said. “A

lot of kids gain confidence and learn to respect

and care for each other through the


Head, heart, hands, health

The 4-H program grew from humble origins

as part of the national agricultural extension

movement into “one of the largest

youth development programs in the nation

and the world,” Harrison said.

The organization boasts 6.5 million members

and operates local clubs in nearly every

county in the United States, he added. 4-H

clubs work through what Harrison called a

“cooperative extension” between the U.S.

Dept. of Agriculture, state land-grant universities

and local county governments.

Despite the federal and state involvement,

Harrison described 4-H as a “grassroots

program” where local volunteers establish

the direction and programming for each


4-H is a product of the land-grant university

system inaugurated by Congress in

the 1860s. The federal government donated

public land for the establishment of a university

in each state that provided education

in agriculture and the “mechanical arts.”

Extension offices were established to

spread agricultural expertise and knowledge

from the central university to rural counties.

The 4-H program developed as the youth

branch of the rural extension offices in the

first years of the 20th century.

People who aren’t familiar with the 4-H

tend to think that the program is simply

about “taking a calf to the fair,” Harrison

said. But like the land-grant universities

today, the 4-H program is diverse and has

expanded well beyond its agricultural roots.

“Our goal is to establish programming

that is diverse enough to benefit as many

community members as we can,” Harrison


In addition to traditional agricultural

programs, 4-H offers everything from competitive

shotgun and archery shooting to

programs where kids get to build and launch

rockets or design robots. Science, Technology,

Engineering and Math (STEM) education

is an integral part of 4-H programming,

Harrison said, but the goal of 4-H is to get

kids out of the classroom and into the field

where they get to work with their hands and

their minds.

Central to the hands-on learning approach

is an emphasis on teaching kids life skills

like responsibility, social skills and leadership,

Harrison said. 4-H members participate

in service projects and older members

have the opportunity to take on leadership

roles and help younger kids. Members can

also build their confidence through public


The life skills children learn in 4-H stick

with them as they grow, Harrison said. Kids

involved in 4-H “generally attend college

and volunteer at a higher rate,” he added.

Reaching youth

Harrison arrived in Pinedale to take on

his position as 4-H/youth development extension

educator at the end of October. His

primary role is to coordinate 4-H activities

in Sublette County.

Volunteers are the backbone of the organization,

and part of Harrison’s job is to

provide support and curriculum to each volunteer.

Getting volunteers to work together

and “developing positive relationships with

local volunteers” is one of Harrison’s primary


While local clubs and volunteers have

a lot of leeway in choosing programming,

Harrison’s job is to make sure that each program

still meets the guidelines and goals established

by 4-H.

“4-H is one of few youth programs with

such an extensive reach across the country,”

he said. “But there is a lot of responsibility

that comes with this success. We have to

make sure that each program provides value

to our youth.”

The annual county fair is the most visible

4-H event of the year, but clubs operate year

round. Harrison said that most clubs start

organizing around January each year.

Approximately 300 youths across the

county are involved in local 4-H clubs,

Harrison said. Around 60 to 70 volunteers

supervise the clubs and programs. Harrison

plans to keep those numbers growing.

“The higher the percentage of kids we

can get involved in 4-H, the better,” he

said. “The way to do this is by offering

broad, hands-on programs that are appealing

enough to get a lot of kids involved.”

Harrison intends to continue the successful

and popular robotics program established

by his predecessors. He is also

looking at programs where kids get to build

drones or learn to use geographic information

systems, or GIS.

Harrison also plans to “keep the momentum

going” in leadership training and livestock

judging programs.

Harrison urges children who are interested

in 4-H and adults with skills to offer

to contact him at the U.W. Extension Office

at 307-367-4380.


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