Mention 4-H, and images of the perfect cookie or a well-nourished calf may come to mind. But, this is 2011: How about geospatial literacy? Emergency management? Homeland security?
All qualify, as a savvy 4-H project tech group from Leavenworth County, Kan., has earned second place in the K-12 division of an international geographic information system map-making contest – and praise from emergency management and homeland security officials in northeast Kansas.
The international competition was sponsored by Esri, a GIS technologies software provider during its recent International Users Conference Map Gallery held in San Diego, Calif. The conference drew more than 14,000 users of geospatial technologies with the Map Gallery drawing more than 1,000 entries submitted by GIS users from more than 100 countries.
The 4-H-produced Foreign Animal Disease Biosecurity Map pinpoints the locations of herds with 100 or more cattle, dairy cows, sheep and other cloven-hoofed animals in the county, said Chuck Magaha, Leavenworth County.
In praising the youthful, but tenacious 4-H team, Magaha noted that the teens accomplished a task that, due to limited time and resources, had not been possible for county staff to do.
"Making it happen is a story," said Magaha, who credited Beth Hecht, K-State Research and Extension associate 4-H specialist in geospatial literacy, for her work with the team.
As a member of the state 4-H Youth Development Department, Hecht teaches extension agents and 4-H leaders how to use GPS and GIS technologies and applications. As a former 4-H agent, she was among the first to introduce the technologies to local 4-H members via geocaching, which is similar to a scavenger hunt.
One of the earlier projects focused on mapping former and current rail lines in the county. Teens involved in the project became much more aware of the decline in rail service than they had been before, she said. Another project focused on mapping the locations of former schools.
Mapping high-water marks and erosion along the Kansas River also interested the 4-H teens, and prompted Hecht to invite Magaha and local officials to a presentation on the technology projects.
While the 4-H members invited project ideas from government officials, Magaha, a former 4-H member, was already mentally making the connection, and suggested that he would do some homework and follow up.
In suggesting the livestock herd mapping project, he reasoned: the teens have time available, skill in using the technologies, and knowledge of their communities.
Before moving ahead, Magaha consulted with Jessica Frye, GIS Coordinator in the Kansas Adjutant General's Department (National Guard, Emergency Management and Homeland Security), and Sandy Johnson, Kansas Department of Agriculture.
Students participating in the project were issued county photo ID's. Magaha then worked with the county counselor to draft a letter about the project, which, when approved, was duplicated and laminated for the teen volunteers to use to introduce themselves to producers while surveying the livestock herds in the county.
Teen volunteers met for training at a fire station in Tonganoxie.
"We called to make appointments," said Victoria Thompson, from Leavenworth and 4-H team member. "Once we explained the reasons for the survey – to reduce the risk or spread of disease, economic losses and related losses to the community – producers were interested and cooperative."
The project was particularly intriguing to Thompson, whose career goal is veterinary medicine.
Carl Hecht, 4-H teen from Mc Louth, who volunteered to transfer the data into spreadsheets for the map-making project, said he is intrigued by the technologies and potential applications in future career opportunities.
In addition to Thompson and Hecht, Leavenworth County 4-H Tech Team participants include: Katie Eberth, Basehor; Garrett French, Tonganoxie; Nicholas French, Tonganoxie; Laina Griffith, Basehor; Ashley Hicklin, Basehor; Clayton Kaminski, Bonner Springs; Cody Koch, McLouth; Levi Koch, McLouth; Samantha Koch, McLouth; Justin Patrick, Tonganoxie; Maylyn Solowiej, Basehor; Katie Tindell, Basehor; Rachel Tindell, Basehor; and Brooke Wilson, Basehor. Austin Wiley also participated in the initial part of project.