Fort McCoy News January 10, 2014

STEM mentorship program available for youth, adults

Public Affairs Staff

Youth and adults in the Fort McCoy community interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), can participate in a mentorship program at the installation and surrounding communities that begins in February.

The 4-H Tech Wizards is a national program, overseen in Wisconsin by the University of Wisconsin (UW)-Extension, which engages youth in STEM-related activities while providing a strong, small-group mentoring environment.

The program is for youth between 8 and 17 years old who have an immediate Family member in any branch and component of the U.S. military, said Cori Yahnke, Fort McCoy School Age and Youth Center director. Youth already enrolled in the Child, Youth and School Services (CYSS) After-School program can participate at Fort McCoy. Youth who have a parent or sibling in the military who are not affiliated with Fort McCoy can participate in Tomah or Sparta.

Adults will mentor these youth on STEM topics, as well as youth development.

Each mentoring group has one adult mentor and up to four youth. The groups will help build technology and teamwork skills, as well as encourage sharing of educational and career goals, Yahnke said.

"With the rapid advancement of technology, many career fields are becoming more dependent on the STEM components," Yahnke said. "STEM skills apply to a myriad of career fields, and having advanced skills in those areas will help youth succeed when entering competitive education and career paths in the future."

The program, funded by a grant provided by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Program to the 4-H National Mentoring Program, began in 2011, and typically is offered to youth who are underrepresented in STEM education, said Joanna Skluzacek, UW-Extension 4-H STEM specialist. But funds were recently released to include military partnerships.

The UW-Extension office partnered with Operation Military Kids and Fort McCoy to offer the program to military youth, said Skluzacek.

In Wisconsin the program currently serves five counties and reaches 150 youth, Skluzacek said.

The overarching theme of the program is robotics, but other topics will be explored, Skluzacek said. "But the mentoring part of the program is at its heart."

Youth also will be required to perform 15 hours of community service to participate in the program, she said.

Youth sign up is requested by Jan. 31. Space is limited to 16 participants among all three locations.

Adults who would like to be mentors must be able to commit at least a year to the program and provide mentoring at least once per week, Skluzacek said.

"Studies show that mentoring of less than six months has little impact on youth learning."

Adults also will be required to be registered as 4-H volunteers, pass a background check and take youth protection training. Adults who are mentors at Fort McCoy may have additional requirements, Yahnke said.

The volunteer mentors will receive training, equipment and resources to develop learning strategies and measure the effectiveness of their interaction with youth they mentor, Skluzacek said.

"The Tech Wizards program is an excellent way to help youth gain competency in STEM skills and to form important adult and peer relationships," Yahnke said.

For more information about the program at Fort McCoy, Tomah or Sparta, eligibility requirements or to sign up, call the Fort McCoy School Age/Youth Center at 608-388-4373.