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Dalton whiz kid nurtures his gift in 4-H


At the age of 8, Jake Nelson built his first rocket.

Nelson, now 16, was interested in space and the movie "Star Wars" as a child. When he heard 4-H members could build their own rockets, he thought that was pretty cool.

"I joined 4-H because of the great projects they have," Nelson said, "and I've had a lot of help from all the (University of Nebraska-Lincoln) Extension people."

The Dalton native has built on that base and now works with multimedia presentations and robotics in the Science, Engineering and Technology wing of the 4-H program.

"Technology is something that can be frightening," said Kerry John, an Extension assistant at the Cheyenne County Extension office. "But it's an area that anybody can be successful in."

Still, Nelson has had a lot of success in technology compared with his peers. He learned how to create computer presentations through 4-H years before fellow students at school.

"4-H gave me a boost," Nelson said.

He also taught himself how to use a Macintosh computer. Nelson's horse had a swollen back leg after getting caught in an electric fence, and he had to feed the horse a special diet. Nelson wanted to make a PowerPoint presentation detailing what he had done, but PowerPoint alone didn't have the capabilities to use music and voice narration simultaneously.

Instead, Nelson used Macs from his county UNL Extension office to create a presentation that fit his needs. His horse presentation and a later one on beef safety placed well in contests at the Nebraska State Fair.

"I think especially with the skills that technology gives to younger people," John said, "the way you think of things and look at things is different than when you don't have those opportunities."

Nelson also is interested in aerospace technology. At the end of January, he will begin flying lessons, part of a number of activities in which he has invested.

"He's a fun person to be around," said his mother, Ellen Nelson. "He always has something bubbling around in his brain."

Nelson's work with robotics has been considerable as well. He has played around with robotics kits the Cheyenne County Extension office received and has worked for a 4-H robotics day camp. He also is thinking about working on a training video on how to build and program those robotics kits.

But Nelson said he has eclectic interests in 4-H.

"I don't just do technology in 4-H. I've done public speaking, horses and beef. 4-H has given me a large set of life skills. The most important is public speaking. It helps me talk in front of people and express my ideas."

He also is part of a 25-person youth advisory board for Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman. The group is chosen on a merit basis through applications and resumes. On Jan. 25 and 26, Nelson will meet with Heineman and state senators to talk about youth issues and will also be involved with writing bills.

Nelson isn't completely sure what he wants to do for college. While his interest in technology is immense, he also has an interest in music and cooking. He still would like to do something with computers or technology at the schools he is considering, which include UNL and Chadron State College.

Education aside, Nelson still said 4-H has been a great program that helped him out with everything he was interested in.

"I want to stay in 4-H for as long as I possibly can," he said. "Hopefully I'll be mentoring kids even after I'm in college."

Nebraska 4-H and UNL Extension are part of the university's Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

For more information about 4-H in your area, contact a local UNL Extension office.

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