Career: 4-H Extension Agent

Hay Everyone!

If you remember, we visited with a 4-H Agent a couple of a weeks ago to explore another career in the equine industry. Well, I’m back with another installment in the equine careers series. We’re going to take a few moments to visit with another 4-H Agent. It’s always helpful to hear about careers from a couple of different perspectives as you’ll often learn different things from different people.

This week my guest is Mr. Chad Ripberger. Mr. Ripberger is a 4-H Agent in Mercer County. I think you’ll enjoy reading his perspective on being a 4-H Agent. I know I did!

Lord Nelson (LN): What does your typical day at work look like?

Mr. Ripberger (Mr. R): One of the things I really like about my job is the variety of activity from day to day. I might be planning or running an event for 4-H members, collaborating with another youth organization, meeting with 4-H club leaders, leading a workshop for K-12 educators, or writing a grant proposal. There are usually several projects with varying timelines that need attention. I’m often in the office, but I also spend time in the community or at the university with afterschool, weekend, and summer programs. I really enjoy working directly with youth as part of our programs, but my job also requires me to recruit and support others to do that work and secure funding to pay for it all. Thankfully, I enjoy those aspects of my work as well.

LN: What is your favorite part of the job?

Mr. R: My favorite part of the job is seeing others grow and succeed because of our 4-H programs. It is very satisfying to put a lot of thought and planning into a program and then watch others benefit from our efforts and appreciate the experience. Sometimes that feedback is immediate in the faces and responses of the program participants, and often I’m lucky enough to witness our 4-Hers in action and see their growth on display through their work. Then there are times when I hear about our impact years later, from a much older alumnus or a parent. That impact, helping young people develop into contributing members of their community, is what motivates me and keeps me excited about coming to work each morning.

Mr. Ripberger enjoys introducing young people to horses through a variety of 4-H programs, including summer day camps and afterschool sessions.

LN: What is your least favorite part of the job?

Mr. R: A lot of paperwork, reporting, and other similar processes come with the job. These tasks are important, but they take up more time than I would like. I think a lot of jobs are like that and many would agree. In Cooperative Extension, it’s a small price to pay for all of the good parts of each day.

LN: If someone were considering a similar career path, what advice would you offer to them?

Mr. R: I would encourage anyone interested in a 4-H career to get as many experiences working with youth as possible. Consider becoming a camp counselor or volunteering for a local youth-serving organization. Become a teen leader within 4-H or another similar group. Check with your Cooperative Extension office to see if they need any student volunteers or have internship opportunities.

Mr. Ripberger works with 4-H club leaders and members to provide demonstrations and educational activities at the Mercer County 4-H Fair each year at Howell Farm.

LN: What is your most memorable or favorite memory related to your career?

Mr. R: After nearly 19 years as a County 4-H Agent with Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Mercer County, I have many, many wonderful memories. A lot of our 4-H programs have annual cycles, and many of my favorite memories come from those major once-a-year events – such as the County 4-H Fair. For anyone who has grown up in 4-H, there is something extra special about exhibiting and “living” at the county fair each summer. It is the favorite event of the year for our club members, and I thoroughly enjoy being a part of the team that creates that experience every summer, for our 4-H families but also for the fairgoing public. In a similar way, I have a lot of great memories from living on campus at Rutgers-New Brunswick for a week each summer with our 4-H STEM Ambassador Program. Anytime you work with great people to provide an experience filled with so many traditions, you are going to create positive memories that last a lifetime.

Mr. R: What made you decide to pursue a career as an extension agent and how did you establish yourself within this field?

Mr. R: I knew that I wanted to have a career working with and for people – something that would give me the opportunity to have an impact and play a role in my community. Cooperative Extension has been an important part of my family for four generations, and I had been involved in 4-H Youth Development for as long as I can remember, initially as a member and volunteer leader in Indiana. I interned with my local Extension office after high school and with the state 4-H office during college while studying agricultural education at Purdue. After teaching high school agriculture courses and serving as an FFA advisor for five years, I moved to New Jersey in 2001 and became a 4-H Agent in Mercer County with Rutgers Cooperative Extension. It has been a great fit for me.

LN: Why did you choose to work in 4-H rather than another part of the extension system?

Mr. R: Growing up in a small farming community in central Indiana, 4-H was a way of life for my family – much more than just a youth organization. My father was heavily involved in 4-H as a member in the fifties, taking projects such as corn, beef cattle, rabbits, gardening, and electricity. My mother was one of the volunteer leaders of the Hustling Hoosiers 4-H Club that included me and my siblings. They involved us in 4-H camps, fairs, conferences, judging contests, and many other events. I had such a positive experience in 4-H, and I decided I wanted to help provide a similar experience for other youth.

LN: Is there anything I’ve missed that you would like to share?

Mr. R: Our 4-H program includes youth involved in a wide variety of projects, including animal science, coding, robotics, nature, environmental stewardship, healthy living, performing arts, and many others. Youth participate in these diverse projects through community-based clubs, school, afterschool, weekend, and summer camp programs. Due to the nature of this blog, I have included a variety of photos focused on our horse projects. While my 4-H background is primarily in livestock, I also judged horses in high school. As County 4-H Agent, I collaborated with the Mercer County Equestrian Center (now Mercer County Stables) to create the Horses and Youth or HAY program. Through HAY, youth from Trenton and other urban communities have the chance to learn about horses, care for them, and ride.

Mr. Ripberger partnered with the Mercer County Equestrian Center to create the Horses and Youth (HAY) program for youth from Trenton and other urban communities throughout Mercer County. During HAY, youth with limited exposure to horses become very comfortable working with them by the end of the program. They learn about horses and how to care for them but also gain confidence and valuable life skills. HAY has operated as both an afterschool and summer program since 2005.

LN: Thanks for visiting with me Mr. Ripberger!

Mr. R: It was an honor Lord Nelson.

This series on careers in the equine industry has been fun and educational for me! I hope you’re enjoying it as much as I am. These past two installments as we’ve peeked into the life of a couple of 4-H Agents has been particularly exciting. I see these folks at 4-H events and events we host here at the Equine Science Center on a regular basis, but I’ve learned so much about what they do on a daily basis and why they’ve chosen the careers they have. It’s always inspiring to hear people’s stories! Hopefully, you’re finding some of these stories resonate with you. Maybe these stories will even help you decide on a future career path!

Until Next Time.

Your Friend,

Lord Nelson

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