Team earns national award for work on database of 4-H research

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- A team composed primarily of Penn State faculty and staff members has won a national award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a project that began as an effort to locate and document the body of research undergirding the 4-H youth development program.

Led by Jan Scholl, associate professor of agricultural and extension education in the College of Agricultural Sciences, the team received the Partnership Award for Effective and Efficient Use of Resources from USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

The team was honored at a recent Washington, D.C., ceremony for developing a national research database that serves as a repository for scholarly studies related to 4-H and the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, or EFNEP. These programs are administered in each state by cooperative extension systems at the nation's land-grant universities, including Penn State.

"Throughout the 20th century, state and federal extension administrators attempted to locate a research base of studies to demonstrate the value of 4-H and family and consumer sciences programs," said Scholl. "Until recently, the widespread perception was that studies did not exist, except for a handful published in recent years."

So Scholl set out to rectify that. Working with a team of library and database specialists, she searched through paper and electronic files at the National Agricultural Library, National Archives and other repositories and found more than 3,550 (and counting) 4-H research studies from 1911 to 2011. These studies were placed in separate databases, one for studies by graduate students and one for research by faculty members. An associated youth-development website was created to provide a user interface.

A separate database was created to house and sort 360 EFNEP studies. All studies were qualitatively analyzed, and this analysis was published in refereed journals. "The studies represent all known research about these programs," said Scholl.

Finding and documenting this body of research was a daunting task, but Scholl notes that is was critical to demonstrate the programs' impacts. "Lack of status among other youth-serving organizations and the nutrition community and limited support for research are serious consequences," she said. "With increased availability and sophistication of online library databases in the 2000s, discovery of all known 4-H and EFNEP research became much more feasible."

The databases have quickly become a valuable tool for users. Thought to be the only resources of their kind among youth-serving organizations, the 4-H research databases have been accessed more than 10,000 times by extension specialists, 4-H and other youth professionals, graduate students and researchers representing every state.

Speaking about the EFNEP research database, Helen Chipman, National Institute of Food and Agriculture program leader for food and nutrition, said, "This is quite a contribution -- to have a database of all research on a single program since its inception. The database will allow researchers and program directors to build upon existing knowledge and understanding.

"I wish to recognize the authors, especially Jan Scholl, whose commitment to a dream of having an EFNEP research database has resulted in such a significant conclusion," Chipman added.

Other team members included librarian Amy Paster, programmer-analyst Wayne Ellenberger and database specialist Sherry Lonsdale, all from Penn State University Libraries; Bruce Grinder, information technology specialist, and David Abler, professor of agricultural, environmental and regional economics and demography, in the College of Agricultural Sciences; and librarians Helen Smith and Melanie Gardner of the National Agricultural Library.
 

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Last Updated October 17, 2011