Andrea Kneer-Rice is being honored as a Champion of Change for her efforts in 4-H and Future Farmers of America.
“I feel like I’ve graduated from 4-H today!” I shared this feeling with a mentor while I was helping with a neighboring county’s 4-H horse show this spring. Just five years ago I would have been getting my own horse ready for my county fair as a 4-H/FFA member. Now, as a Baltimore City 4-H educator, I have the opportunity to empower Maryland 4-Hers and guide them to a successful future. I know that I would not be able to have the opportunity to be recognized as a White House Champion of Change without the opportunities afforded to me as a 4-H member, which have lead me to my career as a 4-H educator.
I believe that in 4-H, and in life, we must take advantage of every opportunity we come across. A new experience can lead into a never before seen talent for our youth, and inspire them to continue discovering themselves. The Baltimore City 4-H Youth Expo was my first opportunity to witness the impact a 4-H educator can have on an entire school of children. The students created projects while at home and school to be exhibited at the Expo. The projects were judged and prizes were awarded. The students felt such a sense of accomplishment and were grateful for the recognition they received. Many were excited to become more involved in 4-H and permanently join a club.
During my first week as a 4-H educator I was asked what programs would be of interest to me to implement in Baltimore City. Considering that my position specifically involves STEM I suggested aquaponics. I worked with community members from Johns Hopkins and Maryland Sea Grant, to submit a proposal for a grant to fund clubs that would be researching and building sustainable aquaponics systems, and selling the yield through a local farmer’s market to build a financial foundation for the future. This was the first grant I had ever been involved with, let alone served as the lead investigator for. The greatest thing about extension is that we truly are a family. I was able to call upon former mentors and newly acquainted colleagues for guidance, and with their help,” Aquaponically Grown 4-H Clubs” was in the works. I did receive the grant, and we are beginning to conduct trainings with the teachers at the pilot schools.
My next challenge is establishing technology clubs, and teaching students to write smartphone applications that will enrich the lives of the people in their communities. I want them to address a problem within their community and develop an application that will help manage or resolve the problem. Eventually, they could develop apps with a greater scope that reach communities throughout Maryland and beyond.
I am also very fortunate to be married to a high school agriculture science teacher who has let me help him establish the Southern High FFA Chapter. I help coach the FFA horse judging team, lend a hand with chapter officer development, and sell Christmas trees alongside of the students. I thoroughly enjoy seeing high school students get excited about wearing their first blue corduroy FFA jacket to a public event, and feeling a sense of pride when they share their knowledge of agriculture with fellow community members.
It seems like I spent my childhood running to 4-H and FFA events every evening, and not much has changed now that I am an adult. Part of feeling like I officially graduated from 4-H, and I guess FFA too, is that I am the mentor now. I have built relationships with students and 4-H members by offering them the opportunities that will shape the adult they will become. My advice to all of them has been that when opportunity knocks, eagerly swing the door wide open.
Andrea Kneer-Rice is a 4-H educator at the University of Maryland Extension, with a focus in STEM education.