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Posted: October 7, 2009 12:30 a.m.

4-H’ers make a head start in science

"It doesn’t really seem like science," says 4-H’er Sarah Heft of her observations at a local veterinary clinic.

With hardly a pause between, she adds, "It is a lot of science — all the abbreviations and blood tests."

There lies the beauty of 4-H work: learning without even realizing it.

The seventh grade student at Young American’s Christian School is volunteering and observing at the Honey Creek Vet Hospital with Dr. Leslie Lathem as part of her 4-H dog care project.

Heft said she has wanted to be a veterinarian for as long as she can remember because she just always loved animals.

The family has three Labrador retrievers: Tiger, Louie and Brownie.

They’ve always taken their dogs to Dr. Lathem, so Heft was quick to jump on the opportunity to volunteer at the clinic as part of her project.

During a 4-H summer program at the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine, the admissions officer commented that the 300 hours of paid or volunteer work in veterinary activities required for applicants can be difficult to come by even for college students.

The hours of observation and volunteer work Heft records in her 4-H portfolio today have already started her requisite hours even though vet school is at least 9 years away.

Heft says her college of choice is "definitely UGA," so it’s probably a good thing she has a head start on hours when less than one in five applicants is currently accepted to the school’s vet program.

While having a student volunteer, particularly so young, in the office may actually make more work for an office, Dr. Lathem is bringing science to life for this youth.

The jumpstart on biology, anatomy or animal science may help Heft as she hits high school, said 4-H’er Morgan Worley.

Worley, a sophomore at Eastside High, has competed in 4-H Horse Quiz Bowl since the third grade, learning everything from history and breeds to genetics and vital signs — or as Morgan puts it, "everything on planet Earth about horses."

The extensive and often scientifically detailed knowledge necessary for this 4-H competition may seem daunting even to adults, but Worley says she learned as much as she could "because I wanted to be better than everyone else."

"I’m kind of competitive," she admits.

Her team has not won the quiz bowl yet, but they’re already practicing for the January competition with team meetings and flashcards.

"We all study and try our best, and if you’re ahead, you try to answer even if you don’t know it is right," said Worley.

Worley also competes in 4-H Horse Judging, 4-H Hippology and the state 4-H horse show.

She said she started noticing concepts she’d already learned in 4-H by the time her classes started touching on biology in middle school.

"My grades have gotten better in those classes," she said of topics covered such as anatomy, parasites and bacteria.

Worley takes courses in agriculture at Eastside and also competes on the school’s equestrian team.

Unlike Heft, however, Worley said she does not plan to incorporate her passion for animals into her future career plans.

She doesn’t yet know what she wants to do but says that she wants to be sure horses are "something that I can always just do for fun, not because I have to."

In a time when only five percent of U.S. college students are earning degrees in science, engineering or technology fields, as opposed to 59 to 66 percent in some Asian countries according to the national 4-H program, 4-H is committed to inspiring one million new scientists.

4-H’ers are shooting off rockets, building crash test cars, discovering the world through geographical information systems, experimenting with biofuels, playing with polymers and like these two 4-H’ers — turning an interest in pretty animals into a passion for animal science.

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