University of Illinois Extension serving Christian, Jersey, Macoupin and Montgomery Counties
#1 Industrial Park Dr.
Hillsboro, IL 62049
Hours: Monday - Friday 8 am to 12 pm; 1 pm to 4:30 pm
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Taylorville, IL 62568
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4-H HELPS TOWN GROW THEIR OWN HIGH-TECH WORKFORCE
July 30, 2015
HILLSBORO, ILLINOIS – “Computer Geek,” that is how young people interested in computers sometimes characterize themselves, however to the youth who use this moniker it is a term of endearment, admittance into an exclusive group who share a common love of computers. For computer scientists who possess advanced technical skills, it all started with a similar passion for computers and programming.
Workers with advanced technical skills are essential to a growing economy. This fact is evident when examining the job multiplier effect. The U.S. Census Bureau states that for every high-tech job a community creates, an additional 4.3 local jobs are created. The economic vitality of a community is more likely to improve whenever it can create, attract and retain people with advanced technical skills.
Local communities are beginning to recognize this fact. Recently the community improvement group “Imagine Hillsboro” envisioned the area becoming a tech center that attracts technology firms and computer professionals to the city. Merle Imler, a board member of the “Montgomery CEO” youth program and a member of the Imagine Hillsboro technology committee said, “A major barrier to achieving this goal is attracting enough technical professionals to support these businesses. One way to bridge this gap is to ‘home grow’ the very professionals that we’ll need.”
Motivated by this need, the group explored ways to get local youth interested in computer sciences. The technology committee discussed offering computer coding and programming classes in Hillsboro. Imler, who had previously volunteered with Montgomery County 4-H, immediately recognized 4-H as an excellent way to connect with area youth. While many associate 4-H with teaching youth to grow vegetables, Imler knew that 4-H was also leading the way in STEM (an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and math) education.
After contacting Peggy Hampton, 4-H & Youth Development Educator with University of Illinois Extension, Imler discovered that 4-H was already working to develop computer courses. Elisha Hughes, Montgomery County 4-H Program Coordinator, said, “We were all excited about the potential of creating a class like this and knew it would be a great way for Extension to partner with the community. 4-H is already offering a variety of STEM-focused workshops, such as robotics and science camps, so adding computer programming was the next logical step.”
On July 29, 4-H collaborated with Lincoln Land Community College and Hillsboro Area Hospital to host a computer science workshop for youth in sixth through eighth grades. The students met in the hospital’s computer lab. Hillsboro Area Hospital also donated lunch for the students and Lincoln Land Community College assisted with educational materials.
At the workshop, students were able to program their own video game and disassemble computers to discover how they worked. Students also learned about the many careers available to those interested in computers and the educational requirements to enter those fields. Allison Groves, a student of computer programming and design at De Paul University in Chicago, was the instructor.
At the end of the class, Groves asked the students if they enjoyed the workshop and would come again, they responded with an enthusiastic “yes!” One of the participants, Emma Voss of Taylor Springs said, “I can’t believe they had a class like this in Hillsboro! I love designing video games and computer animation and want to be a programmer. I hope they have more classes.”
Due to the overall interest of the initial class, a computer programming 4-H club is in the works and thanks to a generous donation of 10 laptops to Extension by local tech firm Care Otter these additional programs are now possible.
The success of the program to inspire the next generation of computer scientists is evident when talking to fourteen-year-old Alex Miller of Hillsboro. When asked what she liked best about the workshop, she replied, “I’m a computer geek, so I liked everything, but I really liked learning about how I could do this for a job someday. I know this is what I want to do!”
Anyone interested in learning more about this program or any other offered by 4-H is encouraged to visit the 4-H Extension website http://web.extension.illinois.edu/cjmm/montgomery4h/, or by calling the Montgomery County Extension office at 217-532-3941. University of Illinois Extension provides equal opportunities in programs and employment. If a participant needs reasonable accommodations to participate, they encouraged to contact the Extension office.
Source: Terri Miller, County Extension Director, firstname.lastname@example.org