An ambitious, University based, USDA sponsored research project investigating
the sustainable production and distribution of bioenergy and
bioproducts for the central U.S.

CenUSA’s Youth Program at Purdue - Growing a Brighter Future

Above: FFA Students gathered in uniform at the Nebraska State FFA
Convention 2014.  Photo Credit: Craig Chandler, UNL Communications
By Ali Lenger, CenUSA intern

Raising awareness about biofuels has always been a key CenUSA goal. Over the past four years, CenUSA has partnered with Purdue University, the Indiana 4-H chapter and the Future Farmers of America (FFA) to create standout educational programs that create unique opportunities for students outside of the classroom.

“Our goal is, contextualizing STEM concepts and integrating them into an agricultural context,” said Matt Kararo, a CenUSA supported Doctoral Research Assistant in the Department of Youth Development & Agricultural Education at Purdue University. Kararo has helped develop CenUSA Bioenergy youth outreach materials as part of an interdepartmental team working on Objective 9 of the grant, and is evaluating the 4-H science workshop and the walking tour as part of his dissertation research. “I’m translating scientific research so that the general public can utilize that information to benefit their daily lives,” said Kararo.

Kararo worked with CenUSA and 4-H to organize a Renewable Energy workshop held June 10-12 at the Purdue campus. High school aged 4-H members had the chance to attend this interactive workshop to learn more about switchgrass and other biorenewable fuels. Keith Johnson, Professor of Agronomy at Purdue and part of CenUSA’s Outreach and Extension Team, directed the workshop. “We had different varieties of big blue stem and indian grass to compare,” said Johnson. “We will look at what does it take to establish and grow and what the conversion process will be. We will have the opportunity for them to see plants in the field in season.”

CenUSA’s Indiana educational efforts this summer will include the construction of two new exhibits, one in Trafalgar, Indiana for FFA youth and the other in Roann, Indiana for the general public. CenUSA’s research on switchgrass and other biofuels will be the primary focus of each of the exhibits.

“It’s a really interactive way for the youth to learn about what is going on with the CenUSA’s project,” said Kararo. The exhibits will feature the latest technology to enhance the classroom experience. “There will be switchgrass, big blue stem, and indian grass,” said Kararo.

In addition to signage, students will have access to electronic supplemental materials on tablets that they can take out to the fields with them displaying information and or photos for each part of the exhibit.

The 4-H Youth Round-Up, a STEM educational event, will be held June 22-24 is another great event to look forward to. Eighth-graders and ninth-graders from across Indiana, will attend the Round-up, participating in a variety of STEM workshops and living in dorms, like college students for three days. CenUSA will offer a renewable energy track. “I created a Renewable Energy track in which I am giving them CenUSA information that hopefully inspires them to continue along and pursue a STEM field,” said Kararo.

“With the youth, the objective is career awareness in renewable energy,” said Kararo. The programs are sure to peak the curiosity of young students, and alert them to possibilities of jobs in this field. This takes knowledge out of the textbook and into the real world to show students that scientific research is interactive and exciting.

Purdue’s educational programs are an asset to CenUSA. “We will show the greater impact that the extension type of outreach program can have,” said Kararo. They are great examples of how education prepares the younger generation and ensures a brighter future for us all.