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K-State Research and Extension News

Released: March 30, 2017

Wade Weber begins leadership of Kansas State University’s 4-H Youth Development Program
Building life skills, confidence and curiosity are central to vision

Wade Weber

MANHATTAN, Kan. – When Wade Weber takes his place as the leader of the state’s premier youth-development organization, he’ll be walking familiar ground.

Monday will be Weber’s first day as Kansas State University’s 4-H Youth Development department head and state program leader.

With a master’s degree in counseling and student development from Kansas State University, Weber’s new job marks a return to Manhattan for him after leading 4-H youth development programs with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach for the last seven years.

He also holds a graduate certificate from K-State in academic advising and a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies from Central College in Pella, Iowa.

Rooted in the Cooperative Extension System, 4‑H is the nation’s largest youth development organization. It serves every county and parish in the U.S. through a network of 110 public universities, including Kansas State University. Young people learn by doing in 4-H. They complete hands-on projects in areas such as health, science, agriculture and civic engagement, in a positive environment where they receive guidance from adult mentors and are encouraged to become leaders.

Nearly 78,000 young people participated in such activities across Kansas last year, aided by 10,999 adult and youth volunteers in partnership with local extension agents who, collectively, work in all 105 Kansas counties.

At Iowa State, Weber’s innovative approach grew six county programs to a 10-year high in 4-H youth engagement, club membership and volunteerism. During the last five years, he provided increasing administrative leadership, supervision and mentoring at the state level in addition to providing programmatic leadership to 30 county 4-H programs and agents in northern Iowa.

Weber has more than 20 years of supervisory, development and volunteer coaching experience. He served as the state president of the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents in Iowa in 2014 and was recognized nationally and across Iowa with innovation awards in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) and agriculture. Since 2011 he has served on the Northwest Iowa STEM Advisory Council, leading efforts to increase STEM awareness and coordination to benefit youths. In 2011, he launched a now-thriving FIRST LEGO League robotics program in northwest Iowa and pioneered day-long STEM festivals with several other Iowa colleges. Each festival reached hundreds of youths.

Launching Precision Agriculture and Animal Science Days at the Northwest and Northeast Iowa Research farms helped engage hundreds of high school students in career exploration and innovative problem solving. Weber's leadership increased offerings in Special Interest (SPIN) areas such as creative arts, communication, filmmaking, animal agriculture and STEM.
He also started a new 4-H robotics club in Spirit Lake, Iowa, and served as a 4-H volunteer in that capacity from 2011-2016. 

Weber served previously in Manhattan as a local and multi-state director for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA prior to his time at Iowa State.

His wife Caryn, their three sons and one daughter will move back to Manhattan in June, after the school year ends.

“We have tremendous affinity for the area, great friends across Kansas and have many significant family memories and milestones in Kansas,” Weber said. “At the end of the day, I'm part of the K-State family – always have been and always will be.” As much as he enjoyed and excelled in his work at Iowa State, “to serve the Kansas 4-H and K-State family in this capacity was just an opportunity I did not want to pass up.”

Daryl Buchholz, associate director of Extension and Applied Research at K-State, said, “Wade impressed us all with his vision, leadership capacity and true passion for furthering and expanding the 4-H Youth Development experiences for youth. He also brings a wealth of energy, skills, and commitment to ‘make the best better’ for Kansas youth and families through K-State Research and Extension’s 4-H programs.”

Weber said his intent is for Kansas 4-H Youth Development to be known as an organization that does four things exceptionally well: engaging young people, empowering volunteers, equipping professionals and expanding partnerships.

“I believe youth development is boiled down to growing two primary characteristics and skills: Being a problem solver and getting along with people,” he said. “If you can do those two things you'll be guaranteed a job – and if you can't do either of those two things well, it may be very difficult for you to retain any job.”

Weber stressed the importance of creating learning opportunities for young people where adults showcase their own passions but also model learning about new subjects. By going beyond their own experiences and truly engaging with young people in theirs, adults become positive role models for critical thinking and expanding exploration.

“One of the most powerful experiences I have seen in 4-H youth development is when a young person says, ‘You’re really for me and my learning, instead of just trying to make me for you and what you love,’” Weber said. “In that moment, that young person knows you're going to learn with them about the things that they are interested in instead of only being interested in things that our volunteers already know.

“When that happens, confidence, trust and persistence in those interest areas expands exponentially.”

Such deeper-level mentorship and exploration helps young people expand or refine their interests as they get older, “which is why community partnership development and specifically our partnership with Kansas State University is so vital and critical,” Weber said. “Partnerships allow a youth's learning journey to persist and grow beyond what that initial 4-H experience can provide.”

Weber said he is eager to visit Kansas communities and local 4-H programs to listen for what Kansas 4-H youths and volunteers are most proud of and what they see as opportunities and challenges.

“4-H lives at the local level,” he said, “and I am passionate about connecting with community leaders to collaborate in helping 4-H prepare today’s youth for the leadership challenge of tomorrow,” he said.

Learn more about Kansas 4-H at www.ksre.k-state.edu/4h-youth/ and national 4‑H at www.4‑H.org.


SIDEBAR: Elaborating on each of his four main aspirations for 4-H in Kansas, Weber said:

Engaged learning cultivates a love for lifelong learning, a love of discovery and a love of asking questions. It helps youths excel in their observational skills, be purposeful in problem solving and intentional in their collaboration with their peers and adults in decision making. 4-H Youth Development programs will be known for teaching young people how to learn, not just what they learn.

Empowered volunteers are essential and represent the local voice of the 4-H mission. We will increase and prioritize our investment as an organization in volunteer engagement and training to better empower our partnership with community volunteers. We can only reach every community in Kansas and every young person in Kansas if we empower volunteers with the appropriate tools to work together.

Equipping professionals is about providing extension agents at the state and local levels with the tools they need to give the leadership that's required to support the ideals of engaged learning and empowered volunteers. Extension professionals have the unique distinction of representing and connecting local communities with Kansas State University. Constantly asking how can K-State and local resources work together to enhance local 4-H learning experiences is an important distinction that adds value to local communities.

Expanding partnerships ensure continued growth. Healthy organizations grow. “I have personally seen the local benefits of growing organizational health. People want to be a part of a vibrant 4-H program. As a result, impact expands and attracts additional partners to join with you in that shared mission. I hope to position 4-H Youth Development be the primary vehicle for K-12 youth engagement for Kansas State University with communities across Kansas,” Weber said.


K‑State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well‑being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K‑State campus in Manhattan.

Story by:
Jason Hackett
K-State Research and Extension

For more information:
Wade Weber