WEST COLUMBIA — Isabella Birket’s interest in 4-H was piqued by a poster at a local farm supply store advertising the 4-H rabbit club in Kershaw County. But it didn’t take her long to discover the South Carolina 4-H Youth Development Program is about much more than just bunnies.

“4-H has so much,” Isabella said. “There’s so much leadership involved and so many friendships I’ve gained and a lot of different activities that I’ve gotten to do.”

Isabella showed off her skills at one of those activities by winning the blue ribbon in the Power of Photography Challenge at the South Carolina 4-H Engineering Challenge on April 14 at the Midlands Technical College Airport Campus.

“It took me forever to get the picture,” she said. “I was waiting for the sunrise, and the last picture I took was the one that I entered, so I was so glad I stuck around a little bit longer.”

Isabella’s winning image of the sun rising over the trees behind a tractor on her family’s farm embraced the 4-H club’s traditional agricultural roots while the technical skill she used to capture the image epitomized the theme of the 4-H Engineering Challenge.

Now in its sixth year, the South Carolina 4-H Engineering Challenge is aimed at raising student interest in science, technology, engineering and math — or STEM subjects — and allowing them to experience various STEM disciplines while competing against other students in the state.

“Bringing students from across the state together allows them to meet each other, share ideas about the projects that they’re competing on and allows them to see that everyone in our state gets to participate in STEM,” said Katie Burch, 4-H Science on the Move coordinator. “So if you’re in Pickens County or Horry County or down in Beaufort or Aiken — it doesn’t matter where you are — we have STEM resources that you can use to come and compete in these competitions.”

As a partnership between South Carolina 4-H and the S.C. Coalition for Math and Science, 4-H Science on the Move brings STEM resources into the 4-H program while bringing the resources of the 4-H program — the youth development arm of the Clemson Cooperative Extension Service — to STEM learning in South Carolina.

Kids with rocket

The Rocketry Challenge asked teams to build and bring a rocket to launch with air power. The launch objective was to obtain the greatest distance with an accuracy of +/- 5 degrees left or right of center.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

The Engineering Challenge played host to 179 students this year and marked the first time participants were allowed them to sign up to compete in multiple events on event day.

Isabella, who also serves on the State 4-H Teen Council as the Midlands regional representative, took advantage of the new rules by participating in the Bridge Building Challenge along with photography.

“I loved everything about today’s event,” she said. “I learned so much about teamwork and time management and how to work with other people who maybe we didn’t work that well together in the beginning, but by the end we really got it together and worked well.”

Cierra Randolph, from Holly Hill Roberts Middle School, was a veteran participant, having competed in the bridge-building competition last year. This time around, Cierra competed in the rocketry challenge.

“It was a lot of fun,” she said. “I learned a lot about rockets. I believe a lot of people have a misconception about 4-H. 4-H isn’t all about farming and stuff. It’s also about getting into STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) careers.”

“What I like about 4-H is that everybody is happy and joyful and there are fun competitions to go to,” she added.

Tremaine Richardson, also from Holly Hill Roberts Middle, participated in the LEGO Robotics Challenge after learning about the 4-H Engineering Challenge from his algebra teacher and becoming involved with the STEM club at his school.

“The LEGO Robotics Challenge consisted of having a base robot, and there was a mat where you had to complete a series of challenges,” he said. “We had two hours to program our robots and build attachments to complete these certain challenges. I really like the problem-solving aspect and how we were unaware of what the challenges would be beforehand.”

Isaac Kanagy from Oconee County became involved in 4-H through the nonprofit YouthLink program and attended the event to compete in the LEGO Robotics Challenge. Isaac also participates in his local 4-H Junior Naturalists Club in Seneca.

Kids with bridge

The Building a Bridge Challenge asked each team to design, construct and test their bridge to determine which bridge can hold the most weight. On the day of the challenge, teams were informed of the width of the gap their bridge must span.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

“I just like science programming, engineering and that kind of stuff,” he said. “There is such a diversity of things you can do (in 4-H). It’s not just farming.”

Eric Roberts moved from Colorado to Kershaw County and got involved with 4-H both as a learning experience and as a way to make friends in his new home state.

“I like 4-H because it has engineering and science and a lot of different things like construction, like the bridge challenge and a lot of other things, so it’s perfect for me,” Eric said.

Suzanne Nagy of EnlightenSC, which is the energy education component of the state’s electric cooperatives and sponsor of the event, said the organization is focused on the scholars of the future who will be charged with addressing the state’s and nation’s energy issues.

“We want to get kids excited and provide a way for them to have fun while learning about STEM topics, and we want to give them a venue to be able to do that in a safe way where they learn everything from public speaking and how to stand and deliver to the content of what they are learning about,” Nagy said. “We love 4-H’s work with kids and the way that they work with volunteers and give them different opportunities.”

Ashley Burns, assistant director for 4-H youth development, lauded EnlightenSC for the partnership, pointing to the organization’s work in providing the state’s young people with hands-on learning experiences.

“That’s one of the things we pride ourselves on in 4-H, trying to make science matter and give kids an outlet to explore science in real-world situations,” Burns said. “They help us get our message into the schools and on their websites and through their marketing strategies. They have been a great resource and a great partner and somebody that we’ve been absolutely pleased to work with in terms of a sponsor.”

STEM learning is one of the mandates of the National 4-H Council, and Burns said it was very important to meet that mandate by providing opportunities for the state’s youth to develop their skills in those areas.

Kids with robot

The LEGO Robotics Challenge gave each team two hours to build, program, test and modify a LEGO robot to carry out as many missions as possible in a three-minute table run. The missions and field were revealed at the event.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

“4-H started in agricultural society because that’s where most of our kids lived back when it started in 1902 and then 1908 here in South Carolina,” she said. “But we have moved from a largely agrarian society to a largely urban and suburban society, so most of our kids now are in the urban areas and we wanted something to apply to them. And regardless of where you live, science is something that’s relevant and we need to build a current pipeline for careers and workforce in the future.”

While a common theme of the event was that 4-H has evolved into an organization that is about more than just agriculture, Burch said it was important to remember that agriculture is, in fact, a science.

“One of the reasons why 4-H Science on the Move was created is so we would have something in our state 4-H program that would be just for STEM, and we could have that highlighted in a program to bring the 4-H agents’ attention to it and to bring the public’s attention to it, so that they could see that 4-H does have STEM,” she said. “Even though you may think of agriculture as a guy on a tractor pulling a plow and planting seeds, there’s a lot more engineering and technology and math that goes into agriculture — and agriculture is a science.”

Patricia Whitener, 4-H Extension agent in Greenville County, pointed out that tools such as sensor-based irrigation systems and precision drones meant STEM learning and modern-day agriculture go hand in hand.

“In order to be relevant in agriculture today, there are a lot of STEM jobs available,” she said. “In addition, 4-H youth development has pretty much any offering that a child is interested in. That is our job: to serve citizens in South Carolina from the ages of 5 to 19. One of the benefits of 4-H is that we have the ability to support basically anything that their beautiful little brains can come up with.”

Whitener noted 4-H still has the same areas of focus today — the four H’s — as it did when it was introduced in South Carolina more than a century ago.

“We can facilitate them building those skills, and we do so by engaging the head, the heart, the hands and their health,” she said. “If you just look at the 4-H pledge, it’s really kind of hard to argue with those skills and that concept of pledging your head to clear thinking, your heart to greater loyalty, your hands to larger service and your health to better living.”


Bridge Building Challenge

  • 1st — Zachary Huang, Christopher Li, Pranav Poola (Dent Middle School)
  • 2nd — Alexandra Matthews, Nichloas Matthews (Kershaw County 4-H Clover Club)
  • 3rd — Gregory Pavlunenko, Wesley Ward (Westview Middle School)

Energy House Challenge

  • 1st — Shrihan Ganesh Babu, Satvik Nelakuditi (Dent Middle School)
  • 2nd — Alison Miller, Vanesa Miller (Pickens County)
  • 3rd — Jaylee Borja, Makayla Hazzard, Indyah Hemphill, Kirsten McCullough (Oakdale Elementary School)

LEGO Robotics Challenge

  • 1st — Cumari Boyd, Tremaine Richardson (Holly Hill Roberts Middle School)
  • 2nd — Kaden Dickson, Cole Griffin, Isaac Kanagy, Caden Whitfield (YouthLink)
  • 3rd — Ella Grace Boynton, Caleb Garcia, Liam McCall, Benjamin Ward (Pickens Elementary School)

Mystery Challenge

  • 1st — Zachary Huang, Christopher Li, Pranav Poola (Dent Middle School)
  • 2nd — Brycen Middleton, Brandon Watts (Miracle Academy Preparatory School)
  • 3rd — Hunter Bailey, Adrianna Lechzier, Baxton Seegars, Ethan Turner (Lewisville Middle School)

Power of Photography Challenge

  • 1st — Isabella Birkett (Kershaw County 4-H Clover Club)
  • 2nd — Megan Santoro (Kershaw County 4-H Clover Club)
  • 3rd — Lillian Thomas (Classical Conversations Clover)

Rocketry Challenge

  • 1st — Joy Ferrell, Damon White (Miracle Academy Preparatory School)
  • 2nd — Treyvon Dennis, Caleb Gadsen, Dominick Lampkin (Miracle Academy Preparatory School)
  • 3rd — Tolga Biglis, Pranesh Kanna (Green Charter of the Midlands)

Solar Oven Showcase Challenge

  • 1st — Sydney Kailasapillai, Alexandria Pacunas, Reagan Thomas (Classical Conversations Clover)
  • 2nd — Sarthak Nelakuditi, Yashas Peddireddy (Center for Knowledge)
  • 3rd — Leah Gadsen, Evan Middleton (Miracle Academy Preparatory School)


Lil’ Einstein Award

  • Aqua Builders (Oconee County) — Addison Griffin, Luke Kanagy

Solid-as-a-Rock Model Design Award

  • Charlie Angels (Sumter County) — Maya Cooper, Janae Jackson

Construction Innovation Award

  • Math Geniuses (Sumter County) — Logan Geter, Alyssia Bradley

Explosive Ideas Award

  • BeastMode Builders — Avery Lockett, Jordan Blassingame, Jacob Blassingame