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“Why more women should become mentors” With 4-H CEO Jennifer Sirangelo

Become mentors. As women in leadership positions, we need to serve as role models and take time to guide young female professionals in their career paths. Men in leadership positions play an important role as champions and mentors, too. Nearly all female elected officials, CEOs and executives that I meet credit male mentors for championing […]


Become mentors. As women in leadership positions, we need to serve as role models and take time to guide young female professionals in their career paths. Men in leadership positions play an important role as champions and mentors, too. Nearly all female elected officials, CEOs and executives that I meet credit male mentors for championing their careers and providing critical support in their professional development journeys. And all of us as leaders have the power to create working environments where both women and men can thrive.


I had the pleasure to interview Jennifer Sirangelo. Jennifer is a believer in young people and their capacity to change the world. She leads National 4 H Council in its mission to increase investment and participation in high-quality 4 H positive youth development programs. Sirangelo joined Council in 2006 to grow support for America’s largest youth development organization. Council is the non-profit partner to the nation’s 4-H movement, supporting leadership development for nearly six million young people through diverse and inclusive programs in agriculture, science, health and citizenship by way of alliances with America’s philanthropic sector. Sirangelo is currently leading the largest brand and alumni activation in 4-H history, the Grow True Leaders Campaign.


Can you tell us about your journey to working in the non-profit sector?

My path to 4-H started when I was a girl growing up in the Midwest. My dad worked two jobs and my mom raised our four siblings. We didn’t have a lot of resources, so youth development organizations were important in my life. I owe a lot to the caring adult role model who pushed me beyond my comfort zone and helped me develop curiosity, determination and compassion for others. So, when the time came to determine my career path: I gravitated toward what I’m doing in 4-H — giving more kids what my mentors gave me — the experiences, the skills and the confidence to be a true leader.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with several nonprofit organizations including the National Kidney Foundation and Boys & Girls Clubs of America. I’m a believer in young people and their capacity to change the world so my work with 4-H has allowed me to focus on supporting growth and leadership development for nearly six million young people through 4-H programs in science, agriculture, health and civic engagement.

What do you think makes 4-H stand out? Can you share a story behind this?

When I joined Council in 2006, I knew the organization built its foundation in the 1800’s when agriculture was the dominant industry of that time. Researchers and educators discovered adults in the farming community did not readily accept new agricultural developments and they saw an opportunity for young people, who were open to new thinking and would experiment with new ideas, to lead in introducing new technologies to the adults who were reluctant to embrace them. The focus then was on empowering and developing young people through hands-on projects where they learn by doing — with adults providing the guidance, tools and encouragement, and then putting youth in the driver’s seat to make great things happen. That is the core of 4-H positive youth development, and it remains the same today.

4-Hers today are tackling issues from mental health, to the opioid crisis, and the challenge of feeding our growing world. Every day I’m impressed and inspired by the perspective our young people have and their efforts to impact the world around them.

Can you tell us about current initiatives that 4-H is doing to support leadership growth? How do you expect this to positively impact the greater community?

As today’s kids face a fast-paced and quickly evolving world, they worry about their readiness and if they’ll get the opportunities they need to succeed. Only one in three young people says they have the skills they need to be prepared to lead. Half of all high school students report they are not prepared to lead in their life after high school — for college or career.[i]

It is also a pivotal time in our country when the demand for adaptive skills is a career imperative for companies and a societal imperative for communities. Youth, parents, companies and communities all agree that if we want our kids to be ready to succeed in life, they need more opportunities to hone their skills.

When kids get more opportunities to learn-by-doing, they grow skills that enable them to navigate life’s challenges, pursue their passions and contribute to the world around them. In 4-H, we know that more kids ‘doing’ works. For more than a century, we’ve inspired youth to learn-by-doing by leveraging the best knowledge and research from more than 100 public universities, by creating hands-on programs customized for the needs of local communities, and by building the largest national network of positive youth-adult relationships.

4-H is determined to empower 10 million true leaders by 2025; youth who do with purpose to navigate life’s challenges, pursue their passions and contribute to the world around them. To galvanize the support of communities across the country, 4-H launched ‘Inspire Kids to Do’ — a campaign to give kids more opportunities to do and to grow leaders ready to navigate life and career. Business leaders, alumni and the public are joining 4-H to empower one million kids to learn-by-doing year-round.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects right now?

During the month of October 4-H is set to empower over 150,000 youth to be creators, not just consumers, of technology, through our 11th annual 4-H National Youth Science Day (4-H NYSD). This initiative aims to inspire kids to take an interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) topics through hands-on learning experiences — with this year’s focus on computer science and coding. This year’s challenge activity, Code Your World, is designed by Google and West Virginia University Extension Service, and consists of four activities that teach kids computer science skills through fun topics like digital animation, gaming and dance.

This is such an important initiative as estimates show that 65 percent of today’s students entering grade school will be employed in jobs that don’t exist yet. But in many communities across the U.S. — from rural areas to urban centers — kids don’t have access to the tools or resources they need to learn computer science skills.

As technology continues to disrupt nearly every sector and industry, the importance of understanding computer science will only continue to grow. 4-H NYSD is providing exposure to computer science at an early age and equipping kids with the skills they need to become the changemakers and leaders of tomorrow.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Become mentors. As women in leadership positions, we need to serve as role models and take time to guide young female professionals in their career paths. Men in leadership positions play an important role as champions and mentors, too. Nearly all female elected officials, CEOs and executives that I meet credit male mentors for championing their careers and providing critical support in their professional development journeys. And all of us as leaders have the power to create working environments where both women and men can thrive.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My journey to my role at 4-H started with my mother. She was the first youth development professional in my life. She saw and cultivated the leadership potential in me and my siblings.

How have you and 4-H used your success to bring positivity to the world?

As the president and CEO of National 4-H Council, the nation’s largest youth development organization, I have the honor of working with USDA and the Cooperative Extension System — a community of more than 100 land grant universities — to empower nearly six million young people across the U.S. with the skills to lead for a lifetime. More than 3,500 trained Extension 4-H professionals and more than 500,000 volunteers who serve youth in rural, urban, and suburban communities in every state provide 4-H programs in areas like health, science, civic engagement and agriculture.

I am extremely passionate about our work and our charge. The adaptation and growth of 4-H programs reflect all kinds of activities that young people want to do and all kinds of areas where young people can lead — in agriculture, STEM, health, and more. Young people are able to develop their own pathway in 4-H and by offering a broad menu of local 4-H programs we keep them engaged and continue personal development as their interests evolve. Because of this, 4-H empowers the actions of millions of true leaders — youth who do with purpose, impacting their own lives and changing the world around them.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would keep doing what I’m doing! 4-H serves as a catalyst in our society, partnering with some of the most innovative companies, schools and organizations in the country. Our purposeful, hands-on, doing experiences are empowering students, employees and leaders to meet the challenges of today’s world.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that has been relevant to you in your life?

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Twitter: @JSirangelo

LinkedIn: Jennifer Sirangelo

@4H

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