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Our Illinois 4-H Story

Failures don't have to be failures

To say 4-H at the Illinois State Fair was a success would be an understatement. Stir gently the 3,300+ exhibitors, a national media announcement with representatives from Google and Gov. Bruce Rauner present, perfect weather, an estimated 20,000 visitors to our exhibit area, and I can't imagine a better recipe to showcase what it means to be an Illinois 4-H member.

Google is donating $1.5 million dollars to advance computer science education around the country. Illinois was chosen for the site to make that historic announcement during the Illinois State Fair.

It was cool; I mean, really cool!

After the announcement, Google executives, along with National 4-H Council staff, toured the exhibit area and chatted with 4-H members about their project exhibits. One of those lads was Hunter Shike, a first year 4-H member who was exhibiting in robotics. His story, shared by his mom, Jennifer Shike, follows.

A mom's perspective on 4-H

Sometimes life has a funny way of working things out. Earlier this month, my son Hunter exhibited his Lego EV3 robot in the Illinois State Fair 4-H Project Expo. As a first-year 4-Her, he was beyond excited. As I watched him explain his computer programming and share his knowledge and creativity with the state fair judge, I could not have been a prouder 4-H mom. And then when his robot made a nearly perfect run…yes, I even got a little teary-eyed. Hunter had worked so hard perfecting and improving his robot's performance writing "4-H" with a green Sharpie marker! He was honored with a superior rating on his project and was invited to show off his project to VIPs during the Google $1.5 million 4-H gift announcement the next day. We were beyond excited for him to have this opportunity.

The next morning, we were a little nervous waiting for Hunter's "moment." My husband was back and forth between the 4-H building and the swine barn (our daughter was showing pigs). And let's keep in mind that I am not a robotics person. At all. I help with the other projects that Hunter and Olivia take, but this one was on Dad's list. All I knew was that his trials looked good so we shut the robot down to save the battery.

Before we even knew it, the VIPs came up to Hunter so he hurriedly turned the robot back on. Cameras flashed, video rolled, and wouldn't you know it? That darn little robot started running off course. My heart broke for Hunter who was trying to troubleshoot the problem in the midst of a crowd that would make most grown-ups freeze in fright! The VIPs were gracious and reminded him that 4-H is about learning and that of course, the kink would happen when they were there. Hunter smiled through it, answered more questions, and handled it like a champ.

I'm not going to lie. That was a hard moment. There was nothing I could do to fix this for my son. All I could do was encourage him to pick himself up and try again. We ran over to the swine show ring to watch Olivia. On our way, I reminded him that we don't quit when things don't work out like we expect. We learn and we try again!

My husband and I didn't want him to end on this note so after Olivia finished showing, we went back and tried the program again and found that a connection had loosened somehow. With a little finagling, Hunter got it to work again! This time, three Google gurus and Keith Jacobs of Illinois 4-H came over to watch Hunter successfully run his robot…a few times! Hunter spent nearly an hour visiting with "Chris" of Google, going over his code, describing his process, detailing what went well and what didn't, etc. Then, Google brought their crew over to get some more B-roll and with lights flashing, the robot ran his course nearly perfectly again! The Google crew interviewed him again and the kid just nailed it. He answered their questions with confidence and clarity. It was a moment where resiliency won.

Atul Gawande said, "A failure often does not have to be a failure at all. However, you have to be ready for it – will you admit when things go wrong? Will you take steps to set them right? Because the difference between triumph and defeat, you'll find, isn't about willingness to take risks, it's about mastery of rescue."

I hope that our kids continue to find the bravery within to pursue their dreams and use their failures as opportunities to reinvent their course of action. (Me, too!)


Judy Mae Bingman, University of Illinois Extension Marketing and Communications Manager

Judy uses powerful words and photography to tell the Extension story. She is a skilled communication strategist and storyteller with demonstrated success in building teams and creating strong organizational brand identities that deepen Extension’s impact among key audiences, build brand loyalty, strengthen employee talent, and expand public engagement. She is a frequent conference presenter at the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents Conference and helps Extension staff across the nation tell compelling stories.