2015 4-H Capitol Experience: Youth leaders starting the year off with a bang

2015 4-H Capitol Experience broke the record for number of participants and provided unique programming for youth leaders in Michigan.

Participants of the 2015 4-H Capitol Experience.

Participants of the 2015 4-H Capitol Experience.

The 2015 4-H Capitol Experience was a success yet again. Thanks to amazing work done by county 4-H staff, Michigan State University Extension educators and Michigan Farm Bureau partners, this year’s event was the largest it’s been in quite some time. In fact, this year’s event was so successful, we reached the capacity of the meeting space and coordinators had to utilize a waitlist! There were a total of 116 participants at this year’s event, a 66 percent increase from last year’s approximately 70 participants! Over the past four years, there have been participants from 80 of Michigan’s 83 counties. This year, 34 counties had youth delegates, which is another all-time high for the program.

4-H Capitol Experience is an immersion learning experience. It brings together youth from across Michigan to explore the legislative process and possible career paths while networking with Michigan policy leaders, community stakeholder groups and their peers. Unlike other mock legislative programs, 4-H Capitol Experience engages youth in the development of a policy idea through teamwork. Youth are grouped based on broad issues, such as education, agriculture, civil rights or jobs and the economy. Within those issues groups, youth work together to brainstorm policy ideas, prioritize and select an issue and write a bill. While learning about the legislative process, 4-H Capitol Experience participants are also exercising and honing their conflict resolution, communication and collaboration skills.

Another unique aspect of 4-H Capitol Experience is the many built-in opportunities to network with professionals in the policy arena. Our event is always hosted while the State House of Representatives and Senate are in session. This means 4-H Capitol Experience participants get to see real Michigan elected officials in action, as well as potentially meet their area officials at a formal breakfast. This legislative breakfast provides youth with the opportunity to talk with elected officials from their home districts about their work in the state government and their issue group’s bill, while affording elected officials the opportunity to glean constituent input from the pre-voter population. Other state officials such as MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon and Michigan Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley were also present.

In addition to engaging with state elected officials, 4-H Capitol Experience participants are engaged in a jam-packed schedule of visits to community stakeholder groups. These groups include visits with local and state agencies, legislative aides and lobbyist groups. The program’s mock governor, Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum, a former Michigan Representative, dedicates time during the event to communicating with participants via social media and gives open insights to her experiences being an elected official. Additionally, the program brings a panel of young leaders from state officials under the age of 30 to MSU student government leaders. They give participants advice about college and other opportunities to be involved in government. Our staff even includes a student employee, Domonique Clemons, who was just elected president of the Associated Students of MSU (ASMSU)!

This year’s success cannot be recognized without the recognition of our new partners, Michigan Farm Bureau, who’s financial and staff support made it possible for MSU Extension to make its best better. As you consider 4-H and what it means and offers in your community, don’t forget opportunities like Capitol Experience. Here, 4-H develops youth participant’s leadership skills. Youth are led by youth steering committee members, and all leave with an increased confidence in their ability to create positive change in their communities, to work with adults and other partners to make such change happen, and to be an engaged citizen leader.

If you’re interested in a program similar to 4-H Capitol Experience, check out the first ever World Food Prize Michigan Youth Institute. This one-day event on the MSU campus will help young people explore topics of poverty and hunger, global food systems and food security while networking with Michigan’s leading experts as well as their peers. This free event on Aug. 10, 2015 requires participants work with an adult mentor to write a minimum three page paper examining a developing nation’s food system and creating recommendations for overcoming challenges. Participants will be evaluated on their papers and short presentations at the event for the opportunity to attend the Global Youth Institute. For more information, check out the World Food Prize Michigan Youth Institute webpage

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