Bell credits 4-H’s influence for success in career
PRINCESS ANNE, Md. — Dr. Juliette Bell grew up in an Alabama area known for stock car racing and a form of quilting that gains historical significance from its fabric.
She picked cotton on her family’s 50-acre farm and was quickly attracted to the STEM areas — science, technology, engineering and math — before genetically engineered seeds, precision farming technologies or even the Internet debuted.
As president of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, she later saw how the 4-H youth development program included STEM activities.
Bell, 63, a mother of two, grandmother of four and the wife of a police officer, long ago made the 4-H pledge to dedicate her heart and body to a greater loyalty and larger service.
Like USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue and American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duval, she is a 4-H Luminary: An exclusive and influential alumni who shines a light on how 4-H helps youngsters develop resilience and life and leadership skills.
Bell first participated in 4-H in the 1960s, when she said the organization prepared youngsters for homemaker activities such as cultivating competition tomatoes. The University of Maryland Eastern Shore during her tenure helped make STEM activities available through it.
The 4-H “builds confidence and gets youngsters engaged with their communities and involved with other students and adults,” Bell said. “Today, I think [that 4-H] is even more important because of STEM offerings and a lot of things I didn’t experience when I was growing up.”
Bell, to escape sweltering summer farm work, turned to education. With help from partial scholarships and a National Institutes of Health award, she earned chemistry and biochemistry degrees, did post-doctoral work and garnered leadership training at schools such as the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the Harvard Institute for Education Management.
As a senior staff fellow and research biologist at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Durham County, Bell became one of several in her field to determine how to manipulate an enzyme in a way that allows pharmaceutical manufacturers to develop and test medicines to remedy a mutated gene that can lead to diseases such as breast cancer and sickle cell anemia.
The Chicago Museum of Science and Technology in 2000 featured Bell and astronaut Mae Jemison and former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders in an African-American Women in Science and Technology exhibit.
The White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities that same year recognized her with a Millenium Award for Excellence in Teaching STEM at Historically Black Colleges. In 2001, she earned a National Role Model Citation from Minority Access, Inc., a non-profit organization that works to increase diversity, decrease disparities and reduce incidences of environmental injustices.
Bell served in academic positions at North Carolina and Ohio universities before she was in 2012 named the University of Maryland Eastern Shore’s 15th leader and fourth woman president. She retired from UMES in June.
The historically black land grant university was established in 1886 to primarily serve African-Americans in the areas of academics, research and agricultural Extension.
Bell said she was re-introduced to 4-H via a summer camp at the university that includes STEM activities. The university in 2014 then joined with the University of Maryland Extension Office and established a team to establish 4-H STEM programming in public schools and camps throughout Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties. STEM activities within 4-H include areas such as rocketry, agriscience and the environmental and veterinary sciences.
“There’s a great demand for STEM in the workforce,” Bell said. “It’s important to have 4-H programs like this in a community where diverse youth can gain hands-on exposure to STEM activities.”
Bell was named to the 4-H board of trustees in March 2018 and has served on the National Science Foundation’s Biological Sciences Advisory Board. She has also served as a consultant to the American Association of Colleges and Universities.
In October, she helped the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University Extension unveil an “Innovation Station.”
The 41-foot long, 8.5 foot wide mobile lab, on loan free to educators and non-profit organizations, features equipment intended to help K-12 students develop skills in robotics, renewable energy, block coding and more.
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