This year’s academic conference marked the 30th anniversary of the Tennessee Junior High Academic Conference.

With a goal of recognizing outstanding 4-H members and leaders, providing academic training, and offering special opportunities for career exploration, the annual meeting of the minds allowed junior high students to experience 4-H like never before.

Under the direction of Steve Sutton, Tennessee 4-H worked with individuals from the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, the College of Veterinary Medicine and Ag Research to create the intensive educational program.

“We really didn’t have a statewide recognition event for junior high 4-Hers,” explains Sutton. “Academic Conference was seen as a way to fill that void. It’s given delegates the opportunity to learn more about their project areas from UT researchers and specialists while making friends with similar interests from across the state.”

The four-day conference was held at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and provided a variety of rewarding and fun-filled experiences for students to take part in.

Designed for sixth through eighth graders enrolled in any one of 16 project interest areas, students participated in activities held in classroom, laboratory and outdoor settings, receiving hands-on training.

“Extension agents credit the experience as helping to keep the students involved in 4-H through their high school years,” says Sutton.

The conference wasn’t just valuable for student retention rate in 4-H, but for preparing them for college and beyond.

“The experience of being on a college campus and learning the opportunities available by pursuing an education beyond high school is one of the biggest takeaways for students,” says Justin Crowe, Extension Specialist.

Students stayed in dorms on the UT campus, ate meals at a university cafeteria, and were led by scientists and specialists with national reputations in their areas of specialization.

“This conference is a wonderful opportunity for junior high 4-H members to learn more about their project while getting to experience campus life,” says Crowe.