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SDSU Extension presence growing in Sioux Falls-area youth development programs

May 26, 2023
Three Think, Make, Create mobile lab trailers are parked in a lot with a building behind them.
A bit like a Makerspace on wheels, the South Dakota Afterschool Network’s Think, Make, Create Mobile laboratories can be reserved at (SDSU Extension photo)

You might say Nathan Skadsen is a little bit famous. It’s not unusual for Skadsen to be out and about and encounter a child or teen who sees him and declares, “Oh, you’re the 4-H guy!” 

Skadsen is part of the SDSU Extension team based in the Sioux Falls Regional Office working to provide quality education and programming for youth in the Sioux Falls area. 

As the 4-H Youth Program Advisor for Minnehaha County, Skadsen is indeed “the 4-H guy” for the state’s most populous county. And while Skadsen does work with traditionally enrolled 4-H members, much of his work is with non-traditional outreach members in the community. He is a regular visitor in school classrooms and after-school community partners, like the Boys & Girls Club of the Sioux Empire.

“Our directive is to educate the youth of Minnehaha County using Extension research and expertise,” Skadsen said. “We are here to teach.”

Like traditional 4-H programs, the activities and programming are interactive, hands-on and educational. 

One of the most visible ways the Sioux Falls team does that is through the Sioux Empire Water Festival, which is held every spring for fourth-graders. It is a two-day event that involves an SDSU Extension partnership with numerous other agencies, including South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, the city of Sioux Falls, Minnehaha Conservation District, and the Siouxland Heritage Museums. 

Skadsen said about 2,400 fourth-graders usually attend the event, which uses hands-on activities and local expertise to teach students about water use, conservation and what careers are available for water enthusiasts.

Another signature event for the team is Women in Science, held annually at Southeast Technical College to connect girls in the Sioux Falls area with women working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics-related fields. Women are still underrepresented in technical fields, and Women in Science hopes that connecting girls with female STEM professionals with spark new interest. 

In the classroom, Skadsen must meet South Dakota educational standards, but looks for interactive ways to do so. One of SDSU Extension’s signature in-school programs is Chicks in the Classroom, which involves setting up incubators of fertilized chicken eggs in classrooms. Last year around 30 classrooms participated. Over the course of a six-week curriculum, students dissect (non-fertilized) eggs, monitor the baby chicks’ development, then see the chicks hatch. They are able to spend about a week with the newly hatched chicks, as well. 

Skadsen also regularly provides after-school programming for local organizations like the Boys and Girls Club of the Sioux Empire, which has 10 locations across Sioux Falls, Brandon, and Harrisburg and serves children from age 4 weeks to 18 years. Programming covers a wide range of topics – one day could be making pancakes and discussing the science of cooking and baking, while another day Skadsen may bring in furs and model skulls to talk about mammals and animal adaptations. 

“One of 4-H’s mottos is learning by doing, so we try to incorporate some sort of hands-on and experiential activity in all the education we provide. And since we are a part of SDSU and SDSU Extension, as a 4-H educator I have access to experts in all the fields I teach about,” Skadsen said. 

Another hands-on learning tool the SDSU Extension team has been helping to develop are Think, Make, Create Mobile laboratories owned by the South Dakota Afterschool Network

The Afterschool Network works to connect organizations across South Dakota with high-quality after-school programming, like the popular mobile labs. Christine Wood, SDSU Extension 4-H STEM Field Specialist based in the Sioux Falls Regional Center, works closely with the afterschool network to provide training, program evaluation and professional development.

A bit like a MakerSpace on wheels, the trailers are filled with things to get kids tinkering – arts and crafts, electronics, building blocks – anything to “get those creative juices flowing,” Wood said. The mobility of the trailers allows it to visit any community in the state, no matter how big or small. 

Unlike many craft or STEM kits, Wood said the point isn’t to provide youth with a step-by-step recipe or instruction manual. Instead, the mobile lab provides the resources and lets kids think through engineering, design, and problem-solving in their own ways. 

“There isn’t always a right answer,” Wood said. “We want to prepare them to be those critical thinkers and problem solvers.” 

For more information on these programs, contact the Sioux Falls Regional Center at 605-782-3290 or