Kayla Miller was on a different career trajectory when the opportunity arose to join the Fulton County OSU Extension. But it was an offer she couldn’t refuse.
The 25-year-old Archbold resident began Dec. 11 as the Extension’s local 4-H Youth Development Educator. She fills a position formerly held by Jill Stechschulte, who was Miller’s mentor during her 10-year membership with the Tailwaggers 4-H Club in Delta.
“These positions are very highly sought-after. I felt lucky that I was even asked to come and have an interview,” Miller said.
She caught wind of the position while completing a Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship, which recruits grad students to work for a year in Washington D.C. to learn policy and marine related issues. Miller worked on fresh water systems and was placed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
That experience came after the 2010 Delta High school graduate earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Education from Bowling Green State University with hopes of becoming a high school chemistry teacher. During her undergraduate studies Miller became interested in the algal bloom problems in Lake Erie.
She continued those studies at Ohio State University, receiving a Master’s in Science in Agricultural Engineering for further studies of algal blooms and best management practices farms can adopt to reduce nutrient runoff into water sources.
Having made frequent visits as a youth to a family farm, “that was something that was near and dear to my heart,” Miller said. “I was pretty surprised to learn that agriculture may be a bad actor in the whole Lake Erie situation. So I wanted to learn for myself whether that was true or not true. Growing up in Fulton County, I cared about agriculture.”
But when the OSU Extension position opened up Miller saw a chance to serve her former community. She was given the job following two levels of interviews and despite numerous competitors.
“I figured I could use education in a lot of different capacities,” she said. “I always wanted to come back (home). It was always in the grand plan. I was just really fortunate that this position opened up and the timing was about right.”
As a 4-H Tailwagger during her elementary and high school years, Miller took on small animal projects, the first of which was raising a rabbit that eventually was sold to market.
“It gave me an excuse to get a pet,” she said. “I definitely cried when I had to give up my rabbit. but it was a great learning experience for me.”
She also took on random book projects and cooking and sewing projects. Miller was competitive, and enjoyed being awarded for the work she did.
“Once I got older I realized that 4-H was a great leadership opportunity. I realized it would look great on a college application,” she said.
But what drew ultimately Miller into 4-H was the camaraderie among the members. “I made a lot of friends, and friends I didn’t go to school with, necessarily. I always had friends. That’s the reason I stayed in,” she said.
Now as the county’s 4-H Youth Development Educator for about 1,100 youth, she would like to continue with the foundation Stechschulte put into place.
“I also thought very highly of her. I still do,” Miller said. “Obviously, Jill was doing something right. I certainly want to carry forward that torch.”
That includes preparing 200-300 adults for managing the 4-H members, collaborating with the county’s help organizations, and acting as director and developing the curriculum for 4-H Camp Palmer in Fayette. Miller said 4-H Camp Palmer, scheduled next for June 11-15, 2018, is where life skills can be learned that aren’t always readily available in school.
“It’s important to develop some of those life skills, and 4-H can help you do that,” she said. “We have the opportunity and ability to pick up the slack.”
However, Miller believes there is room for fresh ideas, and plans to let her individual passions for 4-H show through. That will include promoting Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Education Coalition projects. “A lot of times, 4-Hers don’t realize that that’s an option,” she said.
Miller’s supervisor, Cindy Torppa, said the interview committee was impressed with Miller’s energy and passion for the position.
“Kayla is fresh and bright. She has a wonderful enthusiasm and love for 4-H, and a real dedication to youth,” Torppa said.
She said while Miller will respect the 4-H traditions in the county, she’ll also add her own perspective.
“She has a dedication to reaching out to new 4-H audiences,” Torppa said. “She wants to make new opportunities to youth with special needs and others who are not traditionally a part of 4-H.”
Miller said Fulton County has one of the best 4-H programs in the state, “and I’m so glad to be part of a great program. And we will continue to be great.“
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.