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Mentoring middle schoolers in STEM wins student national 4-H award

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Ava Lonneman had an idea: Have fellow high school students in her 4-H club teach STEM concepts to middle schoolers. That way, the older kids can practice their speaking and presentation skills, and the younger ones can learn Newton’s Laws. The idea worked, and it helped Ava, 17, earn a 2017 4-H Youth in Action Pillar Award. We asked the Bio-Med Science Academy student to tell us about herself, her interest in STEM, and the project that won the national award:

 Q: Tell us about yourself and your interests.

A: I’m a junior at the Bio-Med Science Academy in Rootstown, Ohio, in Portage County. My dad is a professional land surveyor but is currently working for Dominion East Ohio, and my mother is an engineer — the first female engineer for the city of Kent. My sister, Maria, is 14 and in the eighth grade at St. Patrick’s School in Kent.

To receive the award, Ava traveled to the 4-H Legacy Awards ceremony in Washington, D.C.

To receive the award, Ava traveled to the 4-H Legacy Awards ceremony in Washington, D.C.

I have a passion for STEM, the arts (piano, guitar, drums and musical theater) and for nature (we live on a reservoir where there are numerous opportunities to connect with the outdoors).

Q: Tell us about your interest in 4-H — your club and what the members do.

A: My interest in 4-H began when I was 8 years old. This will be my 10th year as a 4-H member and my fourth year as a club president. The current club meets after school. We go on field trips to explore the fields of STEM and participate in hands-on activities.

Q: Have you done other projects throughout the years?

A: I have explored a variety of project areas including electricity, robotics, textiles/sewing, fancy poultry, small animals, leadership and theater. I am also a 4-H summer camp counselor.

This PowerPoint contains virtually every project I have completed: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1DiKP–xTA_xg1UuitkqLDZEv5zXUaV-vmAsqD5hiBBs/edit?usp=sharing

Q: How did you win the Youth in Action Pillar Award?

A: The award was application based. I wrote an essay and created a 4-minute video that was submitted to the National 4-H Council. Applications from across the country were review by the council, which narrowed them to three finalists per pillar. (The pillars are Citizenship, Agriculture, Healthy Living and STEM; I applied for the STEM Pillar).

Each of the finalists participated in a video phone interview with the council, and from there, the council selected the winner for each pillar.

The award comes with a $5,000 scholarship toward higher education and a letter of recommendation for my college applications from the CEO and president of 4-H Jennifer Sirangelo.

At the awards ceremony on March 21 in Washington, D.C., the overall Youth in Action winner was announced — Amelia Day, Citizenship Pillar — and she received an additional $5,000.

Q: Tell us about your award-winning project — your role, and what others club members do.

A: My project began when I started high school. The summer before, I wanted to meet the new kids at my school, so we hosted a design-build STEM challenge at our county fair. I thought it would be great to create a 4-H club at Bio-Med because 4-H helps build invaluable skills and leadership.

4-H fosters a learning-by-doing environment. It also provides opportunities including scholarships, experiential learning, educational and recreational camps and skill-building workshops. The club also is a great way for members to explore the diversity of STEM and learn about its more “alternative” applications and fields.

Once the club was established, I recruited members to assist me in teaching the 4-H National Youth Science Day project Motion Commotion to area middle schools. We used our days off from school to visit the middle schools and teach Newton’s Laws of Physics. The high school students gained from this experience by giving demonstrations and speaking in front of groups. The middle school students experienced Newton’s Laws in a learn-by-doing environment.  The project was funded by a grant from the Ohio 4-H Foundation.

Q: As the winner, what will be your responsibilities going forward?

A: I will be a youth spokesperson and representative for 4-H STEM for the next year. I will be traveling to a few major U.S. cities. One of the events I will attend is the 4-H National Youth Science Day in New York in October. This year’s project is wearable technology.

Q: Describe the award ceremony in Washington, D.C. Did you get to see the sights?

4-H Action Pillar winners

Ava met with the other national Pillar Award winners: Bryanne Sanchez-left, Samuel Sugarman-center, Amelia Day-right

A: The award ceremony was a jam-packed event that was the experience of a lifetime. It was held at the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown D.C.

Early in the day, they took us for hair and makeup. We even practiced giving speeches at the podium. I did meet many people from D.C., including the marketing team from HughesNet, which is my STEM Pillar sponsor.

I also met several university presidents and members of the National 4-H Council, including Jennifer Sirangelo, and Javier Palomarez, president and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and a 4-H trustee. Celebrities at the ceremony included TV chefs Anne Burrell and Lazarus Lynch, actress Aubrey Plaza and country singer Jennifer Nettles.

My family and I had some free time to tour the city, and we had a short monument-sightseeing trip one evening.

Q: I understand your family is involved with 4-H. Tell us about that.

A: I am actually a third-generation 4-Her — my grandma joined in 1947, and my mother and two aunts were members as well. 4-H has been a foundation for raising children in our family. It fills your free time and summer with meaningful activity.

My dad and the company he works for were recently awarded the Friends of 4-H Award by the state for the work done and donations made to fix up 4-H Camp Whitewood in northeastern Ohio. Both my grandmother and mother are 4-H advisors.

Q: What are your plans as for college and a possible career?

A: I have not decided where I want to go to college. I definitely have an interest in the medical field, however, I am still exploring STEM and enjoy a variety of fields within science and engineering.

Whatever I do, I want to be helping and inspiring others. An end goal of mine is to possibly become a professor and eventually go into higher education administration with the ultimate goal of becoming a university president.

Q: What would you tell younger students who might be considering a STEM-related education or possible career?

A: You do not need to be extremely intelligent to be successful; if you have determination and character, you can push through to achieve your goals.

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