The search for Indiana’s next state 4-H program leader is on. Jason Henderson made it official earlier this summer. Henderson, Purdue University director of Extension, announced that Renee McKee, longtime state 4-H program leader, will retire later this year.
One year ago, Indiana Prairie Farmer published a series of blogs pointing out concerns about the current direction of Indiana 4-H. Dozens responded, including McKee and Henderson. The biggest concern for many was a fear that traditional 4-H was being shoved aside. McKee and Henderson’s response last fall indicated that yes, 4-H is changing as agriculture changes. New programs are being added.
After Henderson posted a job description and vowed to make the search a nationwide event, we contacted him to find out what type of person he was seeking. He made it clear that the person must continue moving 4-H forward. He also clarified his position about traditional 4-H, indicating that he wants it to continue to thrive and prosper.
“In a nutshell, we’re looking for a leader,” Henderson says. “We’re looking for someone who can think strategically about the future of youth education through 4-H, and who can communicate and help build relationships with other organizations across Indiana.
“Agriculture is changing as technology changes. The new leader must look down the road and see how we can adopt technology to help develop our youth. At the same time, the person needs to realize that the Indiana 4-H program is steeped in tradition, and we want to build upon this tradition going forward.”
Ah, that’s the crux of misunderstandings among some 4-H leaders, parents and current programs. Does state leadership realize the value of traditional 4-H? After visiting with Henderson, it’s obvious he does.
“We’re not trying to replace the traditional program; we’re trying to build upon it,” Henderson insists. “Compared to many other states, we have a tremendous foundation in our 4-H program because of our past. What we want to do now is build upon it for the future.”
Henderson points to Spark clubs as an example. A Spark club may focus on one subject, often related to STEM education (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), such as robots or learning one skill set. Participants typically don’t exhibit objects at the county fair.
“The idea for SPARK clubs came from county 4-H corn clubs from the early days of 4-H,” Henderson explains. “Students with common interests gathered to learn about one thing. That’s what Spark clubs do, only they utilize modern technology and reach a different audience.”
Taking the best of traditional 4-H and reinventing it for the 21st century — that’s what Henderson describes as his mission. He’s looking for a leader who can guide that quest. He realizes it could be like looking for Superman or Superwoman, but he’s determined to find the best person available.
Henderson also wants your help. His timeline calls for interviewing candidates this fall. He intends to make interviews available online and provide links if you can’t watch live. He also invites feedback. The process is fluid, so watch for future announcements and let your local Extension staff know you’re interested in being involved.
If you care about the future of 4-H, you have a stake in these interviews. The next state program leader will steer the organization toward what Henderson believes is a bright future.
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