Bringing Science to the Show Ring
Story by Grant Wall
Amy Powell’s charge was simple—emphasize science in Iowa State University Extension and Outreach’s youth programming.
Powell is a 4-H animal science program specialist. She creates curriculum and activities to help the 16,000 youth enrolled in Iowa 4-H animal science projects, FFA and ag-focused classrooms better understand the science behind the animals they raise.
“A lot of kids in our youth programs do a great job in the show ring but don’t understand the science behind their animals,” Powell says. “Why do they need a certain type or amount of feed? What characteristics led the animal to grow the way it did? Those are the questions I’m trying to help them answer.”
Powell took on her position in 2014 and immediately set out to create a 4-H curriculum in animal science.
“This position was the first of its kind at Iowa State merging content expertise in animal science with a youth development focus,” says Mike Anderson, state 4-H program livestock specialist. “Amy has been instrumental in assisting us by improving current programs and developing new and exciting products.”
The goal is not only to educate youth, but also help them become advocates for agriculture in Iowa.
“Once our students become better educated, they can provide better answers when someone approaches them at a fair,” Powell says. “This programming develops STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills kids need.”
A better educated student ultimately leads to better educated consumers.
“Helping people understand and not fear technology in agriculture is important because without those things we can’t feed the world,” Powell says. “Helping youth understand science will help us move forward more efficiently and sustainably. Even if they don’t pursue a career in animal science, they now know this information and will be able to share it and make educated choices as consumers based on science and facts.”
Powell designs and runs programming for specific species and topic areas throughout the year.
In 2014 she introduced the Livestock Skill-a-thon at the Iowa State Fair and has grown the event to include 213 youth participants. Additionally, 15 county fairs have adopted a similar program.
“Her programs help us understand how to read a feed tag, read medication labels, learn about loadout procedures and so much more,” says Jake Sterle, freshman in animal science at Iowa State. “She helps you understand the big picture while also learning to pay attention to detail.”
Evaluations for her Beef Blast program, held twice a year for over 100 youth, show a marked increase in knowledge. The program also helps promote a possible career path—80 percent of event participants indicate they are considering a college major in animal science.