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Mad Hatters Madison Childers and Josie Harrison attend Illini Summer Academies

It’s like suddenly seeing the world in a new way.

That’s how teens attending the Illinois 4-H Illini Summer Academies describe their time studying with University of Illinois instructors this week.

From quantum mechanics and mutagenesis to honey bee health and family interactions, U of I staff allowed Academy teens to peek in the windows of emerging technologies, scientific investigation, and human development explored on this great campus.

“I’ll never look at a movie the same way after this conference,” Marion County 4-H Member Lindy Branch said. Lindy is one of 10 youth in the Theatre Fashion Academy with Barbara Schoenoff of the Krannert Center. The group evaluated the recent Beauty and the Beast movie to understand how subtle changes in the beast’s costumes advanced the movie’s key themes.

“I’m considering changing my major now because of this class,” Branch said.

Theatre Fashion was one of 15 fields of study offered to 275 Illinois teens June 25-29. For many teens, it was their first time on the U of I campus and their first time to consider potential college majors and future careers. Other academies included two courses in Human Development and Family Studies, Ag Communication, Animal Sciences, Veterinary Medicine, Aerospace Engineering, Micro and Cellular Biology, Journalism, Chemistry, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Entomology, Digital Manufacturing, Anthropology, and Theatre Hip Hop Dance.

Teens learned how interwoven the sciences … and life … really are. “We use math and physics to better understand chemistry,” saidProfessor Nancy Makri, Gutgsel professor of chemistry, as she described quantum mechanics with 20 students in the Chemistry Academy. One could hear the excitement and wonder in her voice as she admitted, “After more than 30 years of teaching, I still get excited at the science.”

Dane Sievers, Electrical and Computer Engineering teaching lab coordinator, helped students get dressed for entry in the lab’s “clean room.” Feeling a bit like Teletubbies, the students saw technologies and equipment valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars, far exceeding any lab their local schools could provide.

The first activity for teens in the Anthropology Academy was to piece together skeletal bones. “Anthropologists study how humans came to exist and how we interact with one another on a cultural, physical, and biological level,” said Alexandra Zachwieja, anthropology grad teaching assistant. “We

attempt to analyze the diversity of the human condition in both the past and the present, and hope the students gain an understanding of how far reaching Anthropology can be in our everyday lives.”

Janice Collins, assistant professor of journalism, said her goal for the week was to show teens “every voice has power; every voice is important.” The students each will produce a video clip as part of their coursework.

“We want youth to gain experiences which will advance their knowledge, attitude, and self-confidence,” said Alvarez Dixon, University of Illinois Extension 4-H youth development specialist in college and career readiness.

Life Science Teaching Specialist Melissa Murray Reedy has seen that success first-hand. Last year, three students in her introductory microbiology course came up after the first class and said they were all part of Reedy’s Micro and Cellular Biology 4-H Summer Academy. She said she felt the conference helped the students transition to college life and feel more comfortable approaching university instructors, such as herself.

“During this week in MCB, we hope that students walk away with an appreciation for the complexity of living organisms,” Reedy said, “and we hope they get excited about biology.”

Katelyn Jones-Hamlow and the faculty in the ACES Animal Science department hope to expand the career options for youth attending. Nearly all the youth come to the academy thinking they want to be a veterinarian, Jones-Hamlow said, “but we want students to see there are many other opportunities waiting for them in food production, companion animal care and education, wildlife biology, and other fields which use an animal science foundation.”

4-H is the youth development program of University of Illinois Extension. 4-H empowers and prepares young people to be successful in life.