ST. GEORGE — Paul Hill will soon receive the Governor’s Medal for excellence in Science and Technology. Recipients are companies or individuals who have made “significant contributions to Utah’s advanced scientific and technological knowledge, education and industry” according to the website for the Governor’s Office for Economic Development.
The awards were announced on Dec. 15. Hill will accept the award at a gala in Sandy on Jan. 13.
Hill, however, would rather talk about the robotics programs he has put together. His passion for what he teaches is effusive, and while he feels honored to have received this medal, he said it doesn’t reflect solely on him but on the people who help him run his programs.
“It really takes a community of leaders who share a vision for a future STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) workforce,” Hill said in a press release from USU. “Fortunately, I have been able to connect with amazing people who share this vision and work diligently to make events like First Lego League and Code Camp happen for young people in Washington County.”
See more: Lego league of school children gears up for robotics tournament (with video)
Hill is an extension assistant professor for Utah State University who focuses on the engineering and math program for 4-H in Washington County. More specifically, Hill has put together several programs involving robotics and coding.
“Extension is basically taking the research from the university and disseminating it through hands-on activities and programs … Instead of a classroom, I have a county,” Hill said. “I oversee largely the 4-H program.”
“One of my volunteers nominated me for this award,” Hill said. “I’m like the only one in the extension under the College of Ag (agriculture) who received it so I thought that was kind of neat.”
4-H has been traditionally known as an agriculture-based organization, Hill said, but it has changed over time to reflect the needs of a modernizing society. One aspect which remains the same is the intense focus on a single area, whether it is raising a steer or programming a robot.
“4-H focuses on mastery,” Hill said. “Traditionally our programs and 4-H projects have been in agriculture, that’s still our base. 4-H changes with the times and there’s a huge need for a workforce with STEM skills. A major issue why there is such a need is because youth haven’t gotten involved at a young age. You really need to catch the youth at that elementary school age before intermediate school when they’re really exploring things.”
It is important to pique their interest at this stage of development, Hill said.
“If you can kind of hook them and help them realize that it’s not that difficult and that it’s actually really fun then they will hopefully continue to pursue that,” Hill said.
For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology (FIRST) was a program which made sense to bring to the area, Hill said, so he and some of his volunteer colleagues worked at establishing it. They brought the First Lego League robotics program to the area.
“We brought it here and it started in 2012. Every year it’s been … exponential growth,” Hill said. “We started with 60 kids and now there’s over 500 that are involved in a 4-6 month robotics program. Really, it’s not just robotics, it’s leadership and innovation as well.”
My … favorite aspect of my job is this whole event and then building up to it. We have all these teams and I spend a lot of time visiting with teams and helping them troubleshoot and come up with ideas. The tournament … it’s a tournament, but it’s also a celebration. Yeah, they’re coming to get judged but all their work at that point, there is nothing else they can do, they’ve done all they can on their robot, they’ve done all they can on their ideas … at that point it’s just show and up and have a good time.
Hill and his colleagues also started Code Camp, which joins youth and programming professionals in teams to launch working apps in 24 hours, according to the press release from USU. This camp now has more than 600 participants in 156 teams who have created a variety of different programs: Video games, tools and web and mobile applications. Hill has also put together 4-H “maker camps” during his time as extension professor, garnering approximately $50,000 in grant funds from Cognizant, a Fortune 500 technology company.
See more: Dixie State University hosts Code Camp for 24 hours straight (with video)
The Governor’s medal, while a great honor, is an award which reflects well on his colleagues and the county, Hill said.
“We don’t do a good job tooting our own horn very well as far as Utah State University,” Hill said. “We’re getting better at that. … They put up my picture, they’ve done a lot of social media … they did a whole write-up on it. It’s a little more attention — a lot more attention — than I want. I don’t consider it my award, I have so many volunteers that I work with that do just as much as me, that are just as passionate, just as caring and involved as I am. I just see this as it’s like a medal for the county.”
Despite Hill’s reluctance to claim credit for the medal, it is well deserved, USU Extension Vice President Ken White said.
“Paul is certainly one of the leaders in extension,” White said. “He uses media and some of the new emerging technologies to interact and do outreach … he’s been really innovative in his youth programs. He just really sets the standards for many of our extension faculty.”
All of the extension faculty members are passionate about the work they do within the community, White said, and Hill’s love of his work reflects that passion and commitment.
“I think he’s got a bright future ahead of him. He’s in the promotion cycle this year at USU, I think that will go well for him. He has a lot of opportunities, he’s very talented, he’s making impacts not only in Washington County but the state of Utah, the region and nationally. He participates in national programs where his expertise can be observed and felt by a lot of people around the country.”
“I have watched him bring many innovative programs to USU Extension in Washington County, and he is nationally recognized for his expertise in STEM education,” White said in the press release. “In four years, 1,487 STEM projects have been completed in Paul’s 4-H program. Youth are changing their attitudes toward STEM because he is so gifted in developing programs that make these subjects (interesting).”
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