Throughout the month of October, youth from across the country will use their knowledge, creativity, and innovation in learning about STEM topics during the 13th annual 4-H STEM Challenge.

Formerly known as 4-H National Youth Science Day, this year’s STEM Challenge, Mars Base Camp, will explore the theme of sending humans on a mission to Mars.

With this year’s launch of the NASA Perseverance Rover to Mars, the 4-H STEM Challenge will encourage young people to take an interest in STEM through fundamental concepts in space exploration and beyond.

The National 4-H Council, Virginia Cooperative Extension and Virginia 4-H, with support from Google, designed four unique hands-on activities to get kids and teens to explore computer science, space agriculture, and more. Events and registration websites are listed below.

“The Mars Base Camp theme is the perfect topic to engage young people and encourage them to explore a wide range of exciting subject areas related to STEM, in addition to the theme of outer space,” said Erika Bonnett, a Virginia Cooperative Extension specialist. “Extension and the nation’s land-grant universities are perfectly positioned to develop research-backed curriculum and activities that help young people learn in creative ways. These activities inspire kids to get hands-on and think about some big problems that today’s top scientists and engineers are working on.”

As young people, parents, and educators continue to find new and creative ways to stay engaged during the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 4-H STEM Challenge has adapted to ensure that young people everywhere, regardless of internet connectivity or family resources, have access to STEM Challenge kits, which include online and offline activities.

“For more than a decade, we’ve engaged young people in STEM opportunities through our 4-H STEM Challenge initiative because early exposure and access can lead to a brighter future academically and professionally. Today, our efforts are even more important due to the continued impact of the pandemic, digital divide, and widening opportunity gap affecting young people,” said Jennifer Sirangelo, president and CEO of the National 4?H Council. “With the support of our partners, kids can continue gaining essential STEM skills despite these challenging times. We believe STEM education plays a critical role in preparing young people for future success. Through the STEM Challenge, young people are exposed to a new world of possibilities.”

To kick off this year’s 4-H STEM Challenge, Bill Nye “The Science Guy,” CEO at The Planetary Society, will serve as this year’s 4-H STEM Challenge Ambassador, encouraging millions of young people across the U.S. by telling them that no matter the circumstances they are facing as a result of COVID-19, they can still explore STEM and participate in hands-on learning opportunities.

Today, 55 million kids face this widening opportunity gap in America, hindering them from having equal access to opportunities to reach their full potential. In addition, 12 million kids lack access to reliable broadband internet resources. Through the 4-H STEM Challenge, young people will gain invaluable access to STEM learning opportunities supporting the organization’s efforts to eliminate the opportunity gap and create better, brighter futures for all youth today.

“My mission is to change the world by getting people excited about science and its infinite possibilities,” said Nye. “This year’s STEM Challenge will expose young people to fundamental ideas in science and encourage a lifetime of exploration. I’m thrilled to partner with 4-H and inspire the next generation of STEM leaders and decision-makers who will ultimately shape our future.”

Nye also had the opportunity to surprise four 4-H youth as the special guest host for a virtual Mars Base Camp Trivia Challenge. The 4-H youth, who are STEM leaders in their communities, were each awarded a $2,000 grant to support their 4-H Club’s STEM programming.

4-H Youth Development Specialist Chantel Wilson shows off one of the educational kits for the “Mission to Mars” STEM Challenge.

Beginning Oct.1, youth are invited to participate in the STEM Challenge, as well as other planned virtual events. For information about how to get involved, visit the 4-H Stem Challenge website.

Virginia 4-H will host weekly events to celebrate and get youth excited about STEM. Youth and families can register for one or more events. If you have questions or would like more information contact Erika Bonnett at [email protected] or visit this website to register. A full list of the activities is below.

Tuesdays at 2 p.m. 4-H Mars Base Camp How-To Sessions

Oct. 6, Red Planet Odyssey: Join us for some out-of-this-world fun! We will introduce you to concepts of the engineering and design process through building a rover and going on an exploratory mission on Mars.

Oct. 13, Crop Curiosity: Join us to get “curious” about growing food on Mars! This session will focus on learning and playing Crop Curiosity as we learning about growing food on Mars.

Oct. 20, Landing Zone Surveyor: Did you know that Mars has one of the largest canyons in the Solar System? Join us for an exploration of things you might find if you landed on the surface of Mars and how scientists know that they are there.

Oct. 27, Insight from Mars: Want to tell your family about your trip to Mars? Come learn how to code your own message from Mars to your family after your trip. We will walk through how to use scratch to tell our story about Mars.

Thursdays at 7 p.m. 4-H STEM Month Activities

Oct. 8, STEM Careers: Join us and talk to actual scientists who work on the NASA Mars projects. They will share how they got where they are today and how you too can have a STEM career!

Oct. 15, STEM Games: Join us for some STEM and space-themed games. Play Pictionary, Jeopardy, or other games to showcase your knowledge and skills in science, technology, engineering, agriculture, math, or space.

Oct. 22, Mars Geoscientist Panel: What do you wonder about Mars? Join us for an engaging Question and Answer session where Virginia Tech Geoscientist who study Mars answer questions from Virginia 4-Hers.

Oct. 29, Learning About NASA: Join us to learn from and ask questions of people who have or are currently working at NASA. This session will give you an opportunity to learn about projects and programs that they work on and how they got the chance to work for NASA.

The 2020 4?H STEM Challenge was developed with support from national partners Bayer, Google, Toyota, and the United States Air Force.