“Three, two, one… blast off!”
The two dozen adults gathered in a north Fort Collins parking lot gave a rousing countdown as each of their small, hand-crafted paper rockets lifted off into the sunny June sky, blasting out of PVC pipes powered only by empty soda bottles. Among the enthusiastic crowd were Serve Colorado members, Colorado State University staff, and Colorado Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera.
The group was engaging in a hands-on learning program called It’s Rocket Science!, an initiative of the CSU Extension 4-H STEM AmeriCorps program. Program Coordinator and Extension Agent Toby Swaford and AmeriCorps service member Alex Yeck-Petty lead similar STEM programming for youth throughout Larimer County on a weekly basis.
To demonstrate what kids in the program experience, Swaford led the adults through each step of building the rocket, from rolling cardstock into tubes with tape to customizing “fins” with crayons and affixing them to the spacecraft. They encouraged participants with prompts of “Think about Tony Stark, he’s an engineer” and “it smells like science,” to communicate the excitement of learning they hope to inspire in their students.
The Extension 4-H STEM AmeriCorps program provides an opportunity for youth to engage in science, technology, engineering, and math curriculum beyond the typical K-12 classroom. As Swaford put it, learning outside of school is critical for all young people, but especially for those from underserved and underrepresented populations.
“One of the main benefits we see with this program is that it becomes an equalizer for students who may be spending school time in special programs which takes their time away from critical STEM courses,” Swaford said, adding that field trips to places like museums and parks give students the opportunity to learn in a different environment. “I conduct informal education in those same types of spaces. Providing STEM instruction outside of school in a way that makes it fun and relatable helps these students keep up with their peers and stay engaged throughout the school day.”
After the rockets were assembled came the launch. Lt. Gov. Primavera carefully placed her rocket on the PVC pipe launch point and readied herself. After the enthusiastic countdown, she stomped on the empty soda bottle affixed to the other end of the pipe and up into the air her rocket flew. With a big smile, she exclaimed, “Well, that was fun!”
Colorado 4-H and AmeriCorps
Primavera’s participation in the It’s Rocket Science! activity was part of her tour of Colorado AmeriCorps volunteer programs throughout the state. The Larimer County Extension office was just one of three locations her group intended to visit that day to learn more about the Colorado 4-H Youth Development program, part of CSU Extension. Each year, nearly 100,000 youth throughout the state benefit from Extension’s 4-H programs by participating in hands-on projects, including environmental science, rocketry, foods and nutrition, animal science, photography and more.
AmeriCorps is a voluntary civil society program supported by the U.S. federal government and private foundations, which engages adults in public service work focused on education, public safety, health, and the environment. CSU Extension engages AmeriCorps service members through the 4-H STEM Initiative, which aims to provide dynamic learning experiences for youth outside of the classroom. Currently, there are 19 AmeriCorps volunteers with Extension serving 11 different counties.
For more information about CSU Extension, visit extension.colostate.edu.