Empowering Future Engineers at 4-H Electric Congress

For Ann Margaret Dietrich’s first job managing six chicken houses at a poultry company, technical knowledge was key. The heating, the ventilation – most of the birds’ life support ran on electricity.

Luckily, Dietrich is a 4-H alumnus – and a past participant of the 4-H Electric Congress. When her maintenance man showed up, she was able to enlist him as a mentor.

“I knew the difference between the black wire and the red wire, and that sparked his interest,” Dietrich told the audience at the 69th Annual 4-H Electric Congress on July 12. “He was impressed, and just from that little, tiny bit of knowledge, he spent a lot of time and was willing to teach me a lot more about my houses.”

Though the number of female electrical engineers nationwide hovers at about 8 percent, 45 percent of Electric Congress participants since 2000 have been female. At the annual event, participants between the ages of 11 and 18 gain hands-on experience in the fundamentals of electricity, renewable energy technologies and energy conservation. This year, 128 youths from across the state flocked to Asheville to solder circuit boards and build solar-powered model cars.

NC State University partners with N.C. A&T State University to conduct 4-H programs through their respective Extension organizations. NC State’s Grant Ellington, Extension assistant professor of biological and agricultural engineering, is the program coordinator for Electric Congress.

Dating back to 1947, the event is held for 4-H participants who have demonstrated outstanding knowledge and growth in the program, or who have won Electric Program competitions in their counties. Duke Energy Carolinas, Duke Energy Progress and Dominion North Carolina Power provide generous support to the event to help make the experience possible.

The program was originally developed during a time when Extension electrical demonstration programs were essential to the success and development of rural America and its farms. The modern version has kept pace with the state’s most pressing educational issues, preparing the leaders of tomorrow for successful careers in the burgeoning STEM fields.

Dietrich is now the selection manager for global poultry research company Cobb-Vantress, Inc. She encouraged this year’s attendees to challenge themselves and stay focused.

“Even when I was itty-bitty little-tiny, coming up through 4-H at about 5 years old, Electric Congress was in my sights,” Dietrich said.