Many rural communities are looking for inexpensive and innovative ways to engage youth in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). University Extension 4-H programs offer a unique platform to increase rural youth exposure to STEM and build important life skills. This study employed a mixed-methods approach to examine ways in which 47 youth in five rural robotics day camps grew in targeted 4-H life skills and enthusiasm for science. Campers perceived growth in their decision making and ability to use limited resources during these short day camps. Furthermore, participant observations and responses to open-ended prompts in their “science notebooks” provided insight as to potential mechanisms for this growth and behavioral patterns that enhanced the camper experience. We argue that increasing STEM knowledge and skills alone is not sufficient and that future STEM-focused programs should also target life skills such as decision making, teamwork, and communication.



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