Montana 4-H Congress went “virtual” last week with 4-H members from across the state competing in a variety of traditional contests using completely new methods as they logged in from home (or wherever they were with an internet connection) to participate. For Teton County 4-H, Justin Forseth and Madeline Konen competed in video and career communications contests, respectively. Both contests are relatively new additions to the 4-H Congress contest lineup and lent well to the virtual format.

Forseth competed for a second time in the video contest. He competed in the same event last year, live and in person, on the MSU Bozeman campus. For this competition, youth create a short video, less than five minutes in length, which is presented to the judges. Competitors give an introduction to the video, play the video and are interviewed about the software, hardware, processes and message of their video.

This contest fit well into a virtual format, though direct interaction with the judges can be quite educational for youth. Forseth, who is mostly self-taught, uses a variety of equipment from iPhones to drones to capture his footage. He has used the technology to capture rural living, farm and ranch work. It speaks to Forseth’s personality that following his competition he said, “I know where I need to improve.” He looks forward to receiving evaluators’ comments, knowing they may reveal more areas for improvement.

Konen, who is a Teton County 4-H Ambassador, used a video conferencing platform this spring to interview with several MSU Extension educators and others as part of the Ambassador selection process. For career communications, 4-H members complete a job application, cover letter and resume, which are submitted and reviewed before the interview. Following her competition, she reported that she felt good about how she performed.

It was announced during one of the evening programs that Konen placed second overall in the competition. In a conversation with MSU Extension Teton County Agent Jane Wolery, one of Konen’s judges said she was “very impressed with Madeline,” mentioning that the video platform allows a “peek” into people’s homes. The judge commented on how professionally Konen presented herself, how well she had prepared the background in her room to be clean and clear of distractions, how articulate she was and noted that Konen spoke of setting and meeting goals, such as becoming the Teton County 4-H Council president. Earlier this spring, Konen presided over an online meeting that had 71 household logins as the Teton County 4-H program determined directions and modifications for the Teton County 4-H Fair. Konen, true to her goal-setting fashion, reported she would be interested to review the comment sheets from the judges so that she can improve.

Two other Teton County 4-H members, Bellamy Beadle and Jersey Somerfeld, had planned to compete through online contests, but were unable to do so for separate reasons. 4-H Congress generally offers a variety of competitions and evaluations, workshops, meetings and speakers for 4-H youth. Informal networking has been a huge part of the program over the years, with many 4-H members having ready-made acquaintances in educational and career settings when they graduate from the program.

The 4-H education professionals worked to replicate many aspects of Congress in the virtual platform, including having youth leadership from the State 4-H Officer team.

Konen, who had previously attended 4-H Congress said, “I did miss going to Bozeman and gathering with friends, but I am thankful that we still got to participate in some of Congress. My contest went really well over Webex. Aside from the fact that we couldn’t interact with others during the workshops, those were fun, too. I took part in most of the workshops offered.” Konen discussed a workshop on honeybees, one on wool and another on the differences between grazing and digestion in different animals. “Probably the biggest thing I missed was the dances,” she said. “I am really looking forward to next year.”

Because students were not being housed on campus, the organizers opened the educational workshops and speakers to younger 4-H members. Waverly Konen was one of the younger 4-H members who took part in some of the workshops and listened to guest speakers.

“Congress was very different this year,” Forseth said. “The organizers did a really good job, but it’s hard to replicate a live event. I enjoyed it though. The video contest was pretty similar to an in-person event. The workshops were pretty cool, too. I attended IPYA, where we got the chance to hear from people of different cultures around the world, and the video workshop, which I found very interesting. All things considered it was a pretty good year. That said, I’ll be looking forward to an in-person Congress next time.”

Wolery took part in workshops and classes from her home. She listened in on a workshop on “design thinking” regarding career exploration and decision-making and watched one provided by Montana PBS on sports video production. Though a PBS video production workshop has been offered yearly, Wolery has not been able to attend while at Congress because she chairs a competition at the same time.

The workshop covered a variety of aspects from equipment to advertising. Listening to the presenters talk about the adrenaline rush of live production was interesting, Wolery said. There were two evening speakers, both adapting their styles to the online platform. One offered motivational messages and the other taught teamwork and teambuilding. Boxes of props and equipment were sent to counties participating so that they could do activities in small groups accommodating social distancing. Each presentation modeled adaptability and making the best of life’s situations.