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EVERYDAY PEOPLE: Shooting for the stars

Haugen works for the University of Minnesota Extension in Brainerd.

Heidi Haugen is out to set the record straight: 4-H is not just for farmers.

Haugen works for the University of Minnesota Extension in Brainerd as an educator in youth development. 4-H is part of the Extension’s youth development outreach program.

“I look at training volunteers and staff members in volunteer management,” Haugen said of her role in training adults to lead 4-H clubs. The value of leading, Haugen said is obvious in the impact it has on the kids.

“If you put kids into good, quality environments, good things happen for them,” she said. “If they don’t get a chance to be in a quality environment bad things happen.”

Haugen said 4-H emphasizes belonging, mentorship, mastery of a subject, and giving youth a voice in what they learn and how they learn it.

“All young people need to know that their life has purpose,” Haugen said. “That’s really what 4-H focuses on.”

Haugen, a former Girl Scout, said the common misconception about 4-H is that the program focuses solely on agricultural education — “cows, cookies and curtains.”

“I thought it was just for farmers,” she said. “That’s only one of the many places 4-H demonstrates its learning and leading opportunities.”

Haugen said the most popular 4-H project currently is photography. “We follow the interests of the kids,” she said. “Always have, always will.”

Despite her deep commitment to educating volunteers on the value of youth development through programs like 4-H, Haugen said one the things she loves most about 4-H is that it recognizes the value in other organizations. “People in 4-H are really proud of the traditions in 4-H,” she said. “It’s important for young people to be involved in something — if not 4-H something else that matches their interests and passions.”

Haugen’s work with the University Extension and 4-H started long before she ever moved to Brainerd.

Haugen, a native of Winona, studied and worked at Cornell University in New York. “That’s where I got bitten by the Extension bug,” she said. Haugen fell in love with the idea of the Extension, land-grant university idea. “If National Parks are America’s best idea, the Extension program is the second best,” she said, noting the idea of land-grant universities was established by President Lincoln during the Civil War.

“The idea is that the state gives land and resources to the school,” she said. The land-grant university program operates nationwide.

Haugen was recruited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to work with an Army project connected to the Extension program at Cornell. The assignment included building after-school programs focused on youth development and technology.

It was also at Cornell that Haugen met her husband, Adam Marcotte. “I was his boss,” Haugen said.

After leaving New York, Haugen and her husband spent six years living and working in Seoul, South Korea. Haugen worked with a youth development program for military families. After a number of years in Korea, the couple decided it was time to return to the States. Two days before leaving Korea, Haugen she learned about a job with the University Extension opening in Brainerd. “It was the only job I applied for,” she said.

After more than two decades of being away from Minnesota, Haugen was on her journey home. “We’d been away from family long enough,” she said. Haugen credits her family with her courage to travel and live abroad. In addition to the years she spent living in Korea, Haugen spent her younger years studying in Sweden and later South Africa. In all she estimates she has visited about 36 countries.

“I think when you’re young you don’t think about how important your family is,” she said. “If I ever needed help they would be my very soft safety net.”

In addition to her work with the University Extension, Haugen and her husband also host a regional 4-H program called “Aim for the Stars.” The program provides youth the opportunity for hands-on learning in astronomy and applied sciences. On Feb. 4, Haugen will hold a four hour “sky coach” training certification course at no cost for interested persons in at least 11th grade through adult. No experience or astronomy equipment is required. For more information contact Haugen at or 828-2345.

SARAH NELSON KATZENBERGER may be reached at or 855-5879.