State 4-H president gives CSU board insight on youth development program

State 4-H President Nicholas Ortner with Dorothy Horrell, member of the CSU Board of Governors.

The Colorado State University Board of Governors is regularly updated on various aspects of the university, but rarely does it have the chance to hear firsthand from participants in CSU’s premier youth-development program, 4-H. So it was a great opportunity in May when the Board met with the state’s 4-H student leader.

Colorado State 4-H President Nicholas Ortner, a graduating senior from Holyoke High School in northeastern Colorado, provided a glimpse into 4-H, the state’s largest out-of-school educational program for boys and girls. 4-H is more than 100 years old in Colorado and has always been a part of CSU Extension, which is a division of the Office of Engagement.

Ortner said that in 2013-14, Colorado 4-H reached about 20 percent of 8- to 18-year-olds – or more than 101,000 young people – through club or after-school activities. Those youth who participate in 4-H work on developing life skills such as communication, decision-making, leadership, interpersonal relationships, citizenship and community and global awareness.

Cousin Steven

Ortner was deeply influenced by his cousin, Steven, who grew up nearby and was heavily involved in 4-H. Steven Ortner, who is 10 years older than Nicholas, instilled the values and morals that helped shape his younger cousin’s life.

“We were in the same 4-H club, and these were the traits that I looked up to in him and wanted to imitate,” Nicholas Ortner said. “I always wanted to be involved in all the activities Steven was involved in.”

Steven Ortner is now serving his country as a sergeant in the U.S. Air Force stationed in Alaska.

Nicholas Ortner with Gov. John Hickenlooper and District 6 4-H President Chad Russell at the 2014 Colorado State Fair 4-H and Livestock Sale.

Make the best better

Nicholas Ortner, meanwhile, wears the 4-H emblem with pride.

“This is a youth organization that is the best it can be by helping its members develop leadership skills,” he said. “I try to follow the 4-H motto – to make the best better – every day.”

During his decade in 4-H, Ortner learned the tools to be an effective public speaker, and he developed another interest during his early 4-H days – a knack for livestock judging. He used the public speaking skills he learned to defend his judge decisions and explain why he scored one animal higher than another.

“Now it is a life skill that I can’t live without,” he said.

4-H Hall of Famers

Ortner used that skill as he made his presentation to the CSU Board of Governors. Several members of the Board of Governors are former 4-H’ers themselves, including Past Board Chair Dorothy Horrell, who also is a member of the Colorado 4-H Hall of Fame.

Another 4-H Hall of Fame member is CSU President and Chancellor Tony Frank, who said the impact of the program is profound – for students and society.

“4-H was a fabric of my life growing up on a farm in Illinois,” said Frank. “4-H adds to a community, and 4-H’ers are shown to have increased academic performance, enter the STEM disciplines at a higher rate than other students, and demonstrate improved leadership skills.”

Next for Ortner

Nicholas Ortner’s next steps include enrolling at Northeastern Junior College in Sterling and becoming a member of the school’s Livestock Judging Team. He intends to transfer to a four-year institution afterward, then return to the family farm outside of Holyoke, and continue his work with 4-H.

Cousin Steven would be proud.