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Texas 4-H shows it's not just farming with Science Sleuth Challenge

Texas 4-H has teamed with the Hill Country Science Mill in Johnson City to give Central Texas children a chance to delve into the world of science, technology, engineering and math through the Science Sleuth Challenge.

JOHNSON CITY — The image that comes to mind for “4-H” probably doesn’t include robotics, drones and engineering, but that’s exactly what Toby Lepley wants people to know about the organization. And Texas 4-H has teamed up with the Hill Country Science Mill to give Central Texas kids a chance to delve into the world of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“We’re not just farming and fiber,” Lepley said. “We’re proud of our roots, but we know there’s a tremendous amount out there for our youth.”

The Science Mill and Texas A&M’s AgriLife Extension Service’s Texas 4-H Youth Development Program, of which Lepley belongs, is offering the 4-H Science Sleuth Challenge. The innovative program helps kids continue their Science Mill experience after they leave the facility.

And take a deeper dive into the world of STEM.

“We wanted something that could help them continue exploring STEM, something they could take a step further,” Lepley said. “So when they get home, they can log in on the Science Mill portal and begin the Sleuth Challenge.”

The 4-H Science Sleuth Challenge features a research project with a new one posted each month. The project requires the students to use the scientific method to tackle the research, which could take up to three months. The students then post their experiments, exercises and results online through the Science Mill’s website at so educators can review and analyze it.

“All challenge participants, whether they be from rural or urban locations, have the opportunity to post their research, explain their experiment, show their results on the interactive science board and have their projects reviewed by experts on the topic,” said Renee Williams, the Science Mill’s executive director. “Youth can further engage in STEM topics and imagine themselves in a STEM career by using the process tools of science and engineering — the scientific method and the engineering design process — all while earning a virtual challenge badge. The Science Sleuth Challenge community offers an opportunity for interactive learning and achievement.”

And while it’s a collaborative effort between Texas 4-H and the Science Mill, it’s open to any youth who visit the Johnson City facility, not just 4-H members.

Lepley sees the program as an opportunity for rural youth who might not have access to the same resources that their urban and city counterparts do.

“When we started this we asked ourselves, ‘How do we continue to engage kids to think about science?’ and the challenge is one of those ways,” Lepley said. “It’s a way to keep kids interested in science, technology, engineering and math.”

Williams said kids visiting the Science Mill are able to really engage with the sciences through interactive displays and programs. But when they leave, those kids might lose interest with nothing else to grab their attention. The 4-H Science Sleuth Challenge picks up where the Science Mill leaves off.

“Earning a virtual challenge badge (earned by completing the Sleuth Challenge) offers youth an active way to continue the fun and excitement sparked at the Science Mill,” Williams added.

The goal, Lepley said, is to get kids thinking about STEM careers.

Lepley said the connection with Texas 4-H gives the youth organization a chance to show what it offers. And that includes quite a few STEM-related activities such as the Science Sleuth Challenge.

“It’s very important to remember where we came from but also show people — even within our own 4-H community — we are much more,” Lepley said. “I believe that’s why this collaboration with the Science Mill benefits both organizations, and the big winners are the youth.”

Go to for more information about the challenge.

The Hill Country Science Mill is located at 101 S. Ladybird Lane in Johnson City. It’s open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and noon-5 p.m. Sunday. It’s closed Monday except for select school holidays.

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