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Empowering future success: Illinois youth equipped for a bright future following college prep experience

participants in a group shot in orange shirts

Urbana, Ill. – Over 120 youth from 32 counties across Illinois headed to the University of Illinois campus June 25-29 to work with elite university professors and graduate students in nine academic fields of study during Illinois 4-H’s Illini Summer Academies.

“The goal of this event is to help youth decide what success looks like for them after high school,” says event organizer, University of Illinois Extension 4-H specialist Mark Becker. “We want to show attendees interesting things here on campus for sure, but the ultimate goal is helping them understand what success looks like for them and to help them start seeing a path forward to that.”

During each day of the academies, teens do what college students do, such as conduct experiments in some of the campus’ hundreds of labs. In the evening, teens explore campus, stay in college dorms, enjoy the campus recreation areas, and order late-night pizza.

“We want to challenge youth while they’re here to build community and take advantage of being here with other youth across the state,” says 4-H assistant dean and director Lisa Diaz. “We also want to encourage youth to focus on what is unique about them that they bring to the space as they network and build connections.”

This year, participants were able to choose from academies of study supported by the following University of Illinois units/departments: Electrical and Computer Engineering, College of Applied Health Sciences, iSchool of Information Sciences, Veterinary Medicine, Molecular and Cellular Biology, Gies College of Business, School of Integrate Biology, and the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.

Participants were also able to take part in a College and Career Night where a panelist of professionals shared their advice and perspective with youth, and joined breakout tables to talk about their specialties. This year’s panelists included: Kurly Taylor Jr., Director of Partnerships, Danforth Plant Biology Center; Cristina McNamara, University of Illinois Admissions Counselor; Pam Leiter, University of Illinois Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences Recruitment Coordinator; Krish Nangia, University of Illinois undergraduate in Electrical and Computer Engineering and 4-H alum; Ricardo Diaz, Principal, Xpenn Consultants; Dr. Margarita Teran-Garcia, University of Illinois Assistant Dean for Integrated Health Disparities, Representative Carol Ammons, Illinois State Representative for the 103rd District; and Dakarai Howard, Senior Policy Advisor for the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

This year marks the first year of returning to an in-person event following a 2021 virtual program. Illinois 4-H has offered a summer teen leadership program for more than 50 years. 

The conference is supported financially by the Illinois 4-H Foundation, which provided scholarships to delegates and covered the expenses related to chaperoning the conference.

About Illinois 4-H: Illinois 4-H is the flagship youth development program of University of Illinois Extension and administered through the College of Agriculture, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences. 4-H grows true leaders, youth who are empowered for life today and prepared for a career tomorrow. The hands-on approach in 4-H gives young people guidance, tools, and encouragement, and then puts them in the driver’s seat to make great things happen. Independent research confirms the unparalleled impact of the 4-H experience, demonstrating that young people are four times more likely to contribute to their communities; two times more likely to make healthier choices; two times more likely to be civically active; and two times more likely to participate in STEM programs. 

For Further Information, Contact:

Source:  Mark Becker, University of Illinois Extension 4-H Youth Development Specialist,

Writer:  Carissa Nelson, Media Communications Manager, 4-H State Office,

About Extension

Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities. Illinois Extension is part of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.