Launching this fall, Washington State University Extension’s Juntos 4-H STEM Agriscience Pathways program aims to boost the qualifications of Washington state’s workforce by increasing Latinx high school graduation and postsecondary attendance rates.
The program is funded by a new $1.5 million USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Youth Innovators Empowering Agriculture Across America grant and will expose first-generation middle and high school students and their families to careers in agriscience and STEM.
“Juntos 4-H provides Latinx middle and high school students and their families with the support and knowledge to prepare for life after high school,” said Nancy Deringer, interim associate dean for Student Success and Academic Programs in the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences.
“This program works to increase the workforce capabilities of a significant portion of the population in Washington state,” said Deringer.
Nearly a fifth of the U.S. population is Latinx, according to 2023 U.S. census data, yet Latinx people make up a lopsided 83% of the country’s agricultural workforce.
According to the Pew Research Center, a persistent educational gap remains between Latinx and non-Hispanics, despite the fact that nearly nine in ten Latinx young adults say that a college education is important for success in life.
In order to address that gap, from eighth to twelfth grade, participating Juntos 4-H students and their families will gain the knowledge and skills to ensure high school graduation and broaden postsecondary career and academic opportunities, including offering mentorships that partner Latinx high school students with WSU graduate students.
Participating youth and their families will also engage in workshops and topic-based family nights that include communal dinners during all five years of the program. Juntos 4-H students pursuing agriscience-related majors will take part in hands-on internships at one of the WSU Research and Extension Centers or county Extension offices.
“We are excited that Juntos 4-H spans education, research, and Extension,” said Deringer. “This will substantially increase postsecondary access for Juntos 4-H youth.”
Deringer worked with longtime collaborator Diana Urieta, the lead principal investigator for Juntos 4-H at North Carolina State University, to acquire the NIFA funding.
Juntos originated at North Carolina State University in 2007 and merged with 4-H in 2015.
“It’s exciting collaborating with Nancy on this grant because she’s always had a vision beyond the programming,” said Urieta. “She understands how this type of program brings value to families, to Washington state, and beyond.”
Urieta wishes programs like this had existed when she was younger.
“I was a child of two worlds,” she said. “I remember translating letters in English about car or health insurance and school-related topics to my Spanish-speaking parents. This was information and knowledge many of my peers didn’t have to worry about until later in life.”
Juntos 4-H creates a bridge between educational systems, families, and communities, bringing them together with a shared focus on youth and families, Urieta said. “It’s not just developing the soft skills and leadership; it’s bringing them hands-on career exploration and resource support to achieve their academic goals.”
Community-building around education is vital for bridging the postsecondary Latinx gap, Deringer said.
“Juntos 4-H makes planning for college a family goal,” she added. “There’s no other program like it that offers opportunities for family engagement, mentorship, and postsecondary STEM and agriscience career exploration through industry and educational partnerships.”
Nancy Deringer, firstname.lastname@example.org, 509-335-4562