Nebraska 4-H activities have long-lasting value, Husker students say

by Geitner Simmons | IANR Communications

Nebraska 4-H memories
UNL students Jaylea Pope and Noah Houlebek say they're grateful for the many opportunities 4-H has offered them over the years.
April 25, 2024

Lincoln, Neb. —The benefits from 4-H don’t stop when a young person ages out. 4-H chapters are found across the breadth of Nebraska, and their experiences help members develop skills and discover opportunities of long-lasting value.

University of Nebraska–Lincoln sophomores Jaylea Pope and Noah Holoubek say their 4-H experiences helped them greatly in those ways, as does Catherine Frerichs, a Husker alum now with the National 4-H Council.

“4-H is really that starting point where I learned those skills that have helped me transition into larger roles over the years,” says Pope, a Shelton, Nebraska, native who served as a 4-H chapter president and an FFA officer at the chapter and state levels.

Skillathon competitions, requiring 4-H team members to accomplish tasks and solve problems, helped her the value of teamwork, says Pope, who is double majoring in agricultural communications and animal science with a minor in the Beef Industry Scholars program.

As a young Nebraskan who grew up on her family’s cow calf operation, Pope benefited in particular from her years of participation in 4-H’s livestock judging events, starting when she was 8. “Learning how to evaluate livestock, but also learning how to give reasons and learning how to speak in front of people, has really been a big thing in my life, especially as I've taken on different leadership roles,” she says.  

Pope, now a member of the Husker livestock judging team, has excelled in developing those skills and achieved strong scores in multiple competitions. Last fall, she placed first overall among all competitors in the 4-H national competition in Louisville, Kentucky.

4-H has agricultural roots, but it also offers opportunities that extend to a wide range of additional interests. For Holoubek, who grew up on a cow, corn and soybean farm just north of Clarkson, Nebraska, 4-H membership proved crucial in helping him develop his enthusiasm for science and technology. He’s double majoring in physics and biochemistry.

“4-H really allowed me to start with my experience in STEM,” he says.  

His elementary school in Clarkson didn’t have 4-H activities, but a 4-H club in another county welcomed him to join in its robotics program. “That was one of my first experiences where I could apply my interest and learn new things and work with other people with similar interests,” he says.

In the following years, 4-H activities helped Holoubek pursue additional projects, such as digital video. In high school, he handled livestreaming of school events and pursued technology-focused club activities. He’s helped for years with server management and programming for a West Point web design company. He has participated in multiple robotics competitions and at UNL is an intern for the 4-H Thrive Lab that helps Nebraska youths dive into STEM topics.

For his career, Holoubek aims to develop drugs and pharmaceutic therapies to target cells and improve human health. 

“4-H was such an impactful opportunity for me in determining my career and helping me find something I was really interested in,” he says. “Without 4-H, I might not have found that.” 

The scientific principles one learns in robotics apply directly to precision agriculture with its focus on sensors, data processing and accuracy, Holoubek says. Precision ag companies, he notes, were among the sponsors for Nebraska 4-H’s FIRST LEGO League Challenge Championship held at UNL this spring in conjunction with the inaugural 4-H Robotics Expansion.

“When students have the skills that robotics provides and have an interest in agriculture, I think they can come up with a lot of unique and impactful innovations,” Holoubek says.

Frerichs, a Husker alum who works closely with corporate sponsors in her job with the National 4-H Council, says modern agriculture encompasses a remarkably wide range of career opportunities, and 4-H provides flexibility in its activities to help young people discover those options.

“The list is endless,” says Frerichs, who was introduced to 4-H through activities associated with the horse boarding facility her family operates in Sarpy County. “You could be in sales if you're really passionate about communication. You could be in HR if you're passionate about relationship development. You could work in a lab if you have more of a STEM background. Maybe you're passionate about food science or about water. That’s all connected back to agriculture.”

4-H activities introduce those options to members, she says, and can “set them on a career path in the agriculture industry that they wouldn't have thought of otherwise.”

The benefits from participating in 4-H become evident from the start, Frerichs says: “When you're 5 years old and you start as a Clover Kid, you are already learning how to speak to an adult, to look them in the eye, to shake their hand, how to memorize speech and have the confidence to present it in front of a crowd. And it continues to grow as you continue to have these experiences.”

“I chose the University of Nebraska–Lincoln,” says Frerichs, who majored in agricultural communications, “because I had done so much with the university through 4-H because of that close tie between 4-H and the land-grant university and Extension. UNL already felt like home even though I hadn't started college there yet.” She followed up by getting a master’s degree in agricultural communications from the University of Georgia and has worked for the Nebraska Soybean Board. 

One of the most encouraging aspects of 4-H is how alumni return to help the next set of members get off to a good start, Frerichs says. 

“You can be a part of it in any way, shape or form. That's the beauty of it,” she says. “You can volunteer to be a judge or you can host your own 4-H club or just be a part of a community project.”

Pope is similarly inspired by alumni participation. “I'll still be at county fair helping some of those younger members,” she says. “I've seen alumni come back and judge things at our county fair. There are just so many ways to stay involved as a family or as an alumni that just wants to come back and help.”

Holoubek sees the same spirit at current 4-H events. “Many of the members of my robotics teams have continued to help at robotics events and continue to be involved with 4-H,” he says, “whether it's the 4-H fashion show or the horse show or directly working with 4-H in the Thrive Lab or at the state level.”

“One of the reasons why so many alumni are happy to help is that we want to see other students enjoy the same 4-H we grew up to love and have so many good memories from,” he says. “We want to see that expanded. We want them to have similar opportunities to what we had.”

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