A day in the life: Purdue Extension educator for 4-H, youth development
Friday, March 17, 2017 9:47 AM
Name: Joshua Winrotte
Herald Photo / Provided
CLEAN UP — Joshua Winrotte is cleaning up after the fair with his two helpers, Erabella and Elnora, who are his oldest and middle children.
Occupation: Extension Educator for 4-H and Youth Development
Company: Purdue Cooperative Extension Service – Howard County
Number of years in this position: Two years on April 1
Describe a typical “day in the life” in your line of work: Ha! The best part of my day is that there is no typical day. Some days I am in the office completing paperwork and data reporting. Some days I am working with adults and volunteers to increase their capacity for working with and engaging youth. Some days are spent in the classroom helping youth understand leadership, STEM, life skills, or a myriad other things. Some days are spent working with other educators across the state of Indiana to share educational opportunities with youth from all walks of life. Oh, and we cannot forget the Howard County 4-H Fair, which I am blessed to help administrate.
What are the skills, education, and training needed for your career?: To be a County Extension Educator in Indiana, you need to complete a Master’s Degree. Most people in this career have an education or youth development background. Some of the most-needed skills are the ability to work with youth and adults, being detail-oriented, and the ability to manage large groups of people. Each county extension job is different, so a large amount of time is spent learning about the community you work in.
What were you doing before taking this job?: Before coming to Extension, I was a teacher, coach, and children’s minster. I spent 10 years in the classroom teaching sixth to eight grades. I also coached basketball, baseball, and football. During my college years, I was a part-time children’s minster at a small church.
Did you have to make sacrifices at the start of your career? If so, what were they, and why was it worth it for you to make those sacrifices?: I have had to make two large sacrifices to realize my dream of working in Extension. The first was to move my whole family away from where we were living. We moved our three children away from their grandparents and schools they liked. We left a church we loved. Most of all we left a community that we had blossomed in. The second sacrifice was to leave the classroom. When people think of 4-H, they think I must just spend all of my time working with kids. In reality, I spend less than 25 percent of my time with kids. The rest of my time is spent on administration and working with adult volunteers. I love what I do, but I miss the daily interaction with youth.
Even with those two huge sacrifices, my family and I know we made the right decision. We have been embraced by the community here. Whether it is the people at JRCC where we go to church, our friends at the YMCA, or even just our amazing neighbors, we have always felt welcome and a part of community here. We are blessed to call Howard County home.
Why did you choose this line of work?: I chose Extension because of the dramatic impact 4-H had on my life and my desire to give back to the youth of Howard County. The opening in the job here fit both the timing for my family and provided a chance to give the kids here an experience that helped make me the person I am.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of your career?: Watching 10-year 4-H members graduate onto their next phase of life, knowing that 4-H has helped to prepare them both for their careers and for life.
What’s the most challenging part?: There are more than 650 4-H kids in the county, along with more than 110 volunteers. I wish that I could personally get to know each one and help them to be successful, but there are just too many for me to deeply interact with each one. The biggest challenge is when someone leaves our program, and we never know if we could have helped or provided them more.
How did you get your foot in the door?: I was a 10-year 4-H’er myself. I also worked at the State Fair for four years in college. One of the people there, Carl Broady, always told me to pursue a passion. 4-H and youth are passions for me, and when a job opened up in Extension that I decided to pursue, Carl and others I have worked with over the years helped me get a chance to interview with the County Extension Board.
What does it really take to make it and succeed in this career?: You have to be passionate about providing the best environment for growth and skill development in youth. Sometimes this means difficult decisions about programs you love or ways you think can help kids succeed. You have to choose what fits the needs of the youth and volunteers over your own thoughts of personal success.
Describe one of the best moments you’ve had on the job: One of my favorite moments on the job was watching the faces of some youth that had taken a day trip from Carver Community Center out to visit some volunteers and me at the Howard County Fair. Dennis Morgan and Donta Rogers let us work with their youth on gardening during the summer. They brought the kids out to see the animals and experience what we do for the fair. Seeing the joy and wonder on their face was a great day for me.
What’s the hardest part of the day?: The hardest part of my day is saying no. I hate to say no to people or events where I feel like we can impact youth. I hate it when we cannot fill a need or fit into what someone else is doing. Too often we cannot be what our community partners need, and that is extremely hard for me both in my job and as a person.
What’s your most interesting encounter you’ve ever had with a person on the job?: The majority of my encounters with other people are great, but my most interesting encounter happened my first year on the job during my first fair. We were getting close to the final livestock events of the fair, and my swine superintendent, who is in charge of the pigs at the fair, saw me walking through the barn and told me there was a hog loose. So I proceeded to help chase down the hog in my dress shoes, pressed pants, and tie. My wife still laughs today about her citified husband helping chase a hog in his dress clothes.
Are there misconceptions about this type of work? If so, what are they?: The most common misconception is that our job is only about cows, pigs, and the fair. The truth of the matter is that Indiana 4-H is one of the foremost leaders in STEM education in the state of Indiana. We have helped bring robotics education to more than 70 counties in Indiana. We also value scholarship and knowledge. The Indiana 4-H Foundation awarded over $192,000 in scholarships to college-bound 4-H’ers in 2016. We are always looking to help youth succeed no matter what their background or career path.
What’s one aspect that’s integral to job that most people wouldn’t know?: I have to balance working for the people of Howard County, while reporting to the Howard County Government, while sharing the knowledge of Purdue University, all while providing data and metrics to the USDA. Without all of those different parts of the puzzle, I could not be effective in my job.
What advice would you give to someone looking for pursue a career in your field?: Be passionate about youth and willing to provide an experience better than the one you had. Also, pursue a degree that helps you serve people. All the money in the world does not matter if you do not have joy in what you do.
What was the very first job you had?: My first real job was as a life guard at the YMCA here in Kokomo.
What skills are you still using that were necessary in that job?: The ability to interact with people of all types and all ages is the biggest skill that I am still using today. I love that I was able to work with people from 3 years old in swim lessons and learn from 80-year-olds and up who could out swim me in my prime. I learned from all of them to always respect people and to never stop trying to learn more about the world around me.