November 28, 2007 | By: Laura Skillman

A more focused approach to science, engineering and technology by 4-H, both nationally and in Kentucky, has led to Torey Earle becoming the state’s first 4-H agent-at-large for science, engineering and technology programs.

“I’m helping to get the 4-H SET (Science, Engineering and Technology) curriculum established in the western counties of Kentucky,” he said. “Science, engineering and technology is something 4-H has been doing for years. The whole idea of science-based programs is not new. This initiative just brings it all together into one area.”

The plan is for Kentucky to focus on three to four major areas within the national SET curricula. Those include biotechnology, robotics, forces in motion, global positioning systems and geographic information systems. Earle will work with Jann Burks, 4-H extension specialist, who is UK’s 4-H SET coordinator and liaison with the National 4-H Council.

The National 4-H Council has set a goal of 1 million new young people enrolled in 4-H through SET in the next five years with Kentucky setting a goal of 50,000, he said.

These fields are areas where Kentucky and the nation need to encourage youth interest, Earle said. Studies show that the United States is falling behind in science and engineering related fields. Less than a quarter of graduating high school seniors are considered proficient in science and mathematics and few of those go on to pursue careers in these fields, he noted. While in other counties, such as Japan and China, the percentage is above 50 percent, and in Germany, it is 39 percent.

“This is part of why we are focusing on these areas,” he said. “If we can get them interested in something related to engineering, then we can show them that they need to be concentrating on math and science. It’s not just having fun with robots, for example. You have to know not only that it is fun but the why behind them. You’ve got to understand the science that makes them work.”

Earle said he was attracted to the new position in part because of his agricultural engineering background. After college, he wound up with a job as a 4-H agent and loved working with young people. This new role, he hopes, will allow that to continue as well.

Although in the early stages, Earle said he anticipates spending lots of time helping 4-H agents implement the programs rather than doing much programming himself.

“I love working with my hands, love helping other people understand how and why things work,” he said. “Some people have labeled me as kind of a techno-geek. I enjoy technology. Don’t understand it all the time but love learning about it. If you ever stop learning about it, it will pass you by.”

Earle’s efforts will focus on a number of ways to reach young people including schools, community settings, camps and more. He will also partner with the UK College of Engineering Project Lead the Way Program in western Kentucky. This program works in middle and high schools to encourage an interest in science, engineering and technology, he said.

Earle, formerly a 4-H youth development agent in McCracken County, moved into his new role at the beginning of October and is housed at the UK College of Engineering facility at Paducah. 

“Torey has a proven track record of excellence as a Kentucky 4-H agent and is highly regarded by his fellow 4-H agents,” said Joe Kurth, assistant director for 4-H youth development programs. “We are excited about the possibilities this position holds for expanding 4-H SET in western Kentucky and are delighted to be partnering with the College of Engineering in this venture.”

UK has committed to the position for three years. Earle said if it is as successful as he hopes, at least two additional SET agents would be added for central and eastern Kentucky sometime in the future.


Torey Earle, 270-534-3105