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Emily Rolfes Places Third in National 4-H STEM Competition

Emily Rolfes
Emily Rolfes with a prosthetic, e-NABLE hand, one of the many STEM volunteer projects she and her coach/mom, Susan Rolfes, have been involved in throughout her middle and high school years.

BROOKINGS, S.D. - Emily Rolfes, 18, of Vermillion recently placed third in the National 4-H STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) competition, Technology Changemaker Competition.

The 4-H Tech Changemakers contest was sponsored by Microsoft as part of National 4-H Council and Microsoft's combined efforts to equip young people with the digital skills and resources they need to make a positive impact in their communities. The contest asked 4-H teens to write an essay on how they're impacting their communities.

Rolfes was judged on the quality of her essay and received points based on social media public voting.

Readers can enjoy Rolfes' essay below.

When you say rural South Dakota, people think Midwest, agriculture, sports; people don't think innovation in STEM.

Growing up in a rural South Dakota farm town, people talk about the weather, how the local sports team is doing, how crops/livestock are doing, but they don't talk about STEM.

The local high school has no STEM programs; it is all athletics.

In partnership with my coach/mom Susan Rolfes, we are working to expose the children of our community and surrounding area to STEM. It started with eight participants in the club growing to more than 24 in two years. We also expanded many programs in an effort to reach more kids and get them involved in STEM.

My project uses mainly VEX Robotics technology to expose kids to STEM. My coach and I have various programs we facilitate all using VEX IQ. Through these programs and the technology, we have reached more than 200 kids.

At the local library, we host a biweekly program for kids to come and work on robots; we also host robotics camps where kids can come and learn about the basics in robotics. In the local elementary schools, my coach and I held events at two special interest days where kids came in, built small robots, and ran them on a course; we also had two GirlPowered events where girls came in to do various STEM activities involving robotics and electricity. All of these events are geared towards involving kids in STEM, and we have been very successful.

The hope of all the events my coach and I do is to involve kids in STEM and to integrate it into the community. We are hoping to have the program in the schools in the next two years.
Our elementary school established a STEM lab in the school that was inspired by my coach and I. We have involved more than 200 kids in STEM. Working to further integrate STEM in my community has taught me a lot. It taught me to have extra respect and gratitude for people who volunteer time to help kids learn life skills. I have improved my ability to break something complicated down into terms anyone could understand. The excitement and joy on the kid's faces has taught me even little things change the way they see and think about the world.

This fall, Rolfes will be a freshman at School of Mines and Technology pursuing a degree in Chemical Engineering.

To learn how you or someone you know can become involved in 4-H STEM, contact Christine Wood, SDSU Extension 4-H Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) Field Specialist by email.