April 1996 // Volume 34 // Number 2 // Research in Brief // 2RIB2

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Life Skill Development Related to Participation in 4-H Animal Science Projects

An alumni survey was conducted to determine the affect participation in 4-H animal science programs has had on the development of life skills such as spirit of inquiry, decision making, ability to relate to others, maintain records, public speaking, positive self esteem, and ability to accept responsibility. Alumni were also asked how effective various events and activities were in developing life skills and if their involvement in 4-H animal science projects had any influence on their career choice. For all areas a positive relationship was indicated.

Carol Knowlton Ward
Warren County 4-H Agent
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Warren County
Belvidere, New Jersey
Internet address: ward@aesop.rutgers.edu

Recent studies have investigated the relationship between participation in 4-H animal science projects and the development of valuable skills for living. For Iowa youth enrolled in 4-H swine projects, Gamon and Dehegedus-Hetzel (1994) reported a positive relationship between the development of life skills and participation. Their study surveyed current 4-H animal science project members to assess their perceptions of life skill development. Others have also reported similar relationships for youth currently enrolled in 4-H projects (Sawer, 1987).

There is less evidence that alumni attribute life skill development to their participation in the 4-H animal science program, and if this activity had any effect on their career choices. Thus, the goal of this study was to investigate a possible influence of 4-H programs on animal science alumni. Individuals surveyed had graduated from 4-H within five years of this survey.

Names of recent 4-H animal science alumni were obtained from staff in New Jersey. The survey was a four point Likert scale that had been pretested on five alumni for comprehension. The initial section contained questions to ascertain the influence that 4-H animal science programs had on the development of life skills (i.e., ability to make decisions, development of a spirit of inquiry, ability to relate to others, etc.). The second section questioned the effectiveness of certain activities within the animal science project in helping develop life skills. The third section inquired as to the extent that 4-H participation influenced their career choices.

The 52 respondents had been enrolled in 4-H for an average of 8.4 years (range of 3 to 12 years), and participated in a wide variety of 4-H animal science projects (large and small animals, veterinary science). Respondents represented 13 of the 21 New Jersey counties, including urban and rural areas.


    Q1. How much influence did participation in the 4-H Animal Science program have on your development of the following life skills?

    Life Skill Average Response*
    Spirit of Inquiry 4.1
    Decision Making 4.1
    Ability to Relate to Others 4.4
    Maintain Records 4.0
    Public Speaking 4.1
    Give You a Positive Self Esteem 4.0
    Help You Accept Responsibility 4.7
    4.2 average
    *on a scale of 1 = no influence to 5 = great deal of influence

    Q2. How effective were the following activities in helping you develop life skills listed above?

    Event/Activity Average Response*
    Quiz Bowl Events 3.7
    Judging Events 4.0
    Shows or exhibitions 4.5
    Skillathons 3.0
    3.8 average
    *on a scale of 1 = Not effective to 5 = A great deal of effect

    Q3. Did your participation in the 4-H animal science program significantly influence your career choice? 37% yes, 62% no

    Q4. Did your participation in the 4-H animal science program assist you in developing a career? 46% yes, 54% no


Results of the study indicate that participation in the 4-H animal science program does have a positive influence on life skill development. In particular, note the high score for "ability to accept responsibility." Several respondents indicated a positive influence on their lives with comments such as "I learned to think an entire plan through, react with others and work on a team."

Specific events in 4-H animal science programs appear to have a positive influence on the development of important life skills. Most notable are the results for shows and judging activities. Comments which corroborate this include "the many public speaking experiences I had in 4-H helped me a lot during job interviews."

The results indicate that many respondents do not work in animal science careers, but their comments suggest many of them enjoy related hobbies. Responses such as "I believe my participation in 4-H helped me get into Cornell; a B.S. degree will help me get a job in wildlife, a related field."

Youth development professionals have evidence that 4-H animal science programs benefit participants by helping them develop valuable life skills. It is important that the development of skills for the workplace be documented. This study is one step in that direction. This researcher is interested in conducting additional and more extensive alumni studies to further investigate this topic. It would also be useful to determine whether the shift toward more noncompetitive animal science activities has an influence on the development of life skills.


Gamon, J. A., Dehegedus-Hetzel, O. D. (1994, June). Swine project skill development [5873 bytes]. Journal of Extension, [On line journal], 32(1). Available E mail: almanac@joe.org Message: send joe june 1994 research 5

Sawer, B. J. (1987). What 4-H members learn in animal science projects. Corvallis. Oregon State University Extension Service Department of 4-H Youth Development.