Young people face a host of challenges in today’s complex and rapidly-changing world. At a societal level, nearly 40 percent of youth live in households with incomes below the poverty level. High school drop-out rates stand at about 25 percent, and opportunities for teen employment have decreased. On the individual level, physical inactivity and unhealthy eating have led to increased rates of youth obesity, and problem behaviors such as cigarette smoking and underage drinking persist. Our young people lag behind youth in other countries in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education. In New York State, poverty, educational lags, and other threats to the healthy youth development affect both urban and rural populations.

One organization that provides positive, innovative solutions to these problems in New York State and across the nation is 4-H Youth Development. Building on a century of experience, 4-H addresses healthy youth development through programming in three core areas:

  • Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)
  • Civic engagement
  • Healthy living

4-H clubs, summer camps, and in-school and after-school programs in New York State provide meaningful enrichment activities that promote self-esteem, competence in STEM, and physical and emotional well-being. In contrast to playing video games and other sedentary activities, 4-H offers healthy and productive group activities that encourage social integration and community-engaged activities among youth.

Although the 4-H Youth Development Program has enormous reach and popularity, one striking gap remains: research involving and examining 4-H participants and programs has been very scarce. For New York State 4-H to reach its full potential, there is a critical need for knowledge that will expand funding for the program, increase the effectiveness of 4-H programming, and expand the reach of its most effective programs. By partnering with leading experts in youth development, New York State 4-H has the opportunity to play an active role in understanding what works best for improving life skills and resiliency in youth, why it works, and in which contexts it is most effective.

To address these needs, PRYDE has been founded in the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research. The program will link science and service in innovative ways by involving 4-H communities in both basic and translational research designed to understand and to improve the lives of today’s youth.