MOGADORE, Ohio — Ava Lonneman, 17, a third generation 4-H’er, is a prime example of the 4-H slogan, “Learn by Doing.” She won the National 4-H Council’s 2017 Youth In Action Pillar Award for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) and will be recognized at the 4-H Legacy Awards in Washington March 21.
“4-H has taught me to be a critical thinker,” Lonneman said. “4-H is so hands-on.”
Since she started high school at the Bio-Med Science Academy in Rootstown, — a year-round STEM+M (STEM plus medicine) school on the campus of Northeast Ohio Medical University — Lonneman has engaged more than 1,000 students to take interest in STEM fields. She founded the Bio-Med Science Academy 4-H Afterschool Makers Club last year, which encourages youth involvement in STEM+M projects and 4-H.
Throughout the year, club members traveled to Portage County middle schools and used samples from the Junk Drawer Robotics 4-H curriculum to engage students. Junk Drawer Robotics is an introduction to robots and uses design principles and critical thinking to create mechanized objects.
They also took this concept to STEM Day at the Portage County Fair. Lonneman said participants at the fair built Chip Mobiles out of everyday office supplies and had a race in the junior fair building.
Lonneman has always had an interest in the STEM field. Her first science project through 4-H was an electricity project that involved using a lemon to power a light. Since joining 4-H as a Cloverbud, Lonneman has taken a variety of life skills projects, mostly sewing and science projects, to the fair. She started taking market and fancy breed poultry with her sister, Maria, two years ago.
The avian influenza outbreak kept her from showing the first year the family purchased chickens, but this past year, Lonneman took first place in her breed class and second overall — only to be beaten by her younger sister. Lonneman also won poultry junior showmanship, beating the long-standing undefeated youth champion — “and it was only my first year,” she said.
Lonneman was also runner-up for Portage County Junior Fair Queen this past year, serves on the junior fair board, and served as a 4-H camp counselor for the past three years.
Ashley Hughey, 4-H youth development educator for Portage County, said she could sum up Ava in two words: creative and innovator. Hughey, who has worked with Ava through camp counselor training, said the teen “always thinks outside the box and brings new ideas to everything.”
You could say 4-H is in her blood, as a third generation 4-H’er. Her grandmother, Audrey Boyd, started 4-H in 1947, and Rhonda Lonneman, Ava’s mother, and her two sisters also participated in 4-H — mostly taking life skills projects and rabbits.
“We all developed a strong love of nature and the environment through 4-H,” said Rhonda. They also went on to have careers in STEM-related fields — Rhonda as an engineer and both her sisters in the medical field. Rhonda Lonneman is also the adviser and founder of her daughters’ 4-H club, Lucky Clovers 4-H.
Lonneman will receive a $5,000 scholarship for higher education. Although she is undecided on a college, she knows she wants to pursue a career in a STEM field, possibly in medicine, and wants to receive her doctorate so she can continue to teach. Her dream is to become the head of a university.
“My goal is to help other young people — and especially other girls — realize that STEM is fun, and that success is within your reach,” said Lonneman. “Through STEM and 4-H, I’ve seen an incredible improvement in the confidence, leadership skills, and sense of community of the teen STEM leaders in my after-school Makers Club.”
Sally A. McClaskey, marketing and education director at Ohio 4-H, said it has been an honor to have Ohio youth recognized for their success in the 4-H program. Last year, Jacob Shuman, from Ross County, was the Youth in Action Award winner for Agriculture and Animal Sciences.
“I think it speaks so well to the 4-H programs, the advisers and the parents who have supported these youth through their endeavors,” said McClaskey. “Ava is just a remarkable young lady, and I never cease to be impressed by what 15-, 16- and 17-year-old youth can do through the 4-H program.”
Lonneman will serve as a spokesperson for 4-H STEM programming for the year, and she knows she has a busy year ahead. She will be traveling to New York to host National Youth STEM Day, take a trip to the Capitol, as well as a possible trip to California to encourage other youth to participate in STEM.
“She’s Miss STEM America,” joked her mother.