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Q & A: Maki Kawase, Urban 4-H Extension educator

November 14, 2011

Maki Kawase helps young people ages 5 to 19 succeed by creating spaces for critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity and collaboration. Kawase took a moment out from her work with Minnesota 4-H youth development in Hennepin and Ramsey counties to answer some questions about how and why she does it.

What was your best moment as a 4-H educator?
Every time I see young people building self-esteem and confidence by learning through their own projects, I experience yet another one of my "best moments."

What do you mean by "projects"? Is that a 4-H thing?
4-H participants have the opportunity for deep learning in multiple areas, from gardening to the sciences to photography. Some of their projects last all year, so they can really master something that excites them.

For instance, some youth in South Minneapolis chose a 4-H film-making project and learned about and experienced every aspect of film making: brainstorming, scripting, shooting, directing, acting, editing and organizing a showing. At the showing, they took questions from the audience. Because they crafted and carried out their project, they gained experience, skills, leadership and knowledge. And the show was bright with energy!

You also spend time coordinating programming with youth in North Minneapolis...
I spend a few days a week at the University of Minnesota Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC) in North Minneapolis. The UROC has opened doors for the University to come together with the urban community there and have a positive impact through Urban 4-H and other programs.

One example is that 4-H youth at North Community High School in North Minneapolis participated together in a youth entrepreneurship project to start up a school-spirit store. They planned for and purchased the merchandise, marketed to students and staff, and ran the store. As they graduate, newer students will come in and learn too.

4-H is a program of University of Minnesota Extension. Why?
A system of academic support is one way to ensure success for programs. I'm from Japan. There is nothing like Extension in Japan. For example, there is no youth development program like 4-H that systematically supports out-of-school learning with University research.

The University has a responsibility to do research that makes a positive impact on society through positive youth development. The research informs educational design, so we are able to develop a curriculum that works with the 4-H learn-by-doing model in collaboration with youth, adults and communities.

What kind of education or expertise did you have that led to you getting the job?
Before I went on to get my Ph.D. in the Work, Community, and Family Education program, I worked as a stock analyst for a couple of years! But that was not for me.

I wrote my dissertation on the experiences foreign-born young women have with not fitting in. "Not fitting in" isn't only a theme of stories told by foreign-born people. When you are new to a group, no matter who you are, it can be scary, for adults as well as for kids and young people.

What advice do you give young people who might want to work in youth development?
Seek out collaborative spirits. Positive youth development work is done together with youth, community partners, families, schools and communities. Give voice to your own values, but be open to new perspectives. Cultivate curiosity, be accessible and practice patience.

Youth development research and practice can transform the lives of young people. Working with youth is fun and challenging—keep a sense of humor!

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