Fort Hays State University senior Kory Ridnour started her summer internship last week with the Cottonwood Extension District office.

On her first day, the Burlington, Colo., student worked alongside Susan Schlichting, district 4-H youth development agent, and Stacy Campbell, agriculture and natural resources agent.

“I went to three days of rocketry with Susan, and that was fun to get to work with the little kids,” said Ridnour, who is majoring in agriculture business. “And then I helped design a flyer for three of the camps this summer that they’ll be holding, and I also attended a superintendent’s meeting one night, and then the last event I went to was the wheat plot tour and I just helped take pictures for Stacy and learned more about the different varieties of wheat.”

Ridnour and three other summer interns in the local office, 601 Main St., are leading a variety of youth programs in Ellis and other counties in northwest Kansas. Most are open to all young people.

“We want to get the word out beyond 4-Hers, if kids want to be involved in the leadership camps that happen in all the surrounding counties, it’s not just for 4-Hers, but for junior high, high school kids, they are also welcome to participate,” Schlichting said.

Similarly, the interns can help organizations in the community.

“Community organizations can invite these guys to come in and do a noontime program for them, or some kind of educational thing, or if there’s a community event happening, like county fair or a community celebration that they could actually come and set up and display and help educate folks about whatever that is as well,” she said.

Ridnour’s internship is funded through the local Extension office, to give college students an opportunity to see what the work is like, Schlichting said.

“We try to give them a taste of all four program areas,” she said, as well as media experience. “So helping with fair, helping with the summer camps, going out on yard visits with horticulture, just a variety of experiences to see what it might be like to be an Extension agent. And we hope that they’ll consider that as an option down the road.”

Two interns, Nikole Cain and Erik Espinosa, are part of the Dane G. Hansen Community Intern Initiative, which matches upper-level college students who need hands-on professional experience with northwest Kansas communities that have community improvement projects.

As part of the program, organizations throughout the area can ask the interns for help with teaching and programming.

“(Hansen) really have a strong push to bring opportunities to rural communities,” Schlichting said. “So they’re looking for ways to help younger people envision life in a rural setting.”

This is the third year for the internship program, she said, and there are 19 college students participating throughout the state.

“They are doing a variety of pre-professional work in a variety of settings,” Schlichting said. “It might be an architectural student helping design a building for a community center, or someone helping to create a walking path for a community, or maybe they’re putting on children’s theater performances. Each of the programs is very different from community to community.”

Having two Hansen interns in an Extension office is unique, she said. Typically they work for chambers of commerce or community development organizations.

Cain and Espinosa will serve more than just Ellis County, Schlichting said.

Cain will serve the Cottonwood Extension District of Hays and Great Bend, as well as the Phillips-Rooks district for Stockton and Phillipsburg counties, the Midway District for Russell and Ellsworth counties, and the Walnut Creek District for Lane, Ness and Rush counties.

She did similar work the past two summers in Salina with the Central Kansas District, serving Saline and Minneapolis counties, working with 4-H youth and different county agents.

Cain, a senior at Kansas State University, is majoring in agricultural education, which prepares her for teaching or working in Extension.

This summer she’s teaching Leadership Camps for 4-H kids and other youth. Whether day camp or presentations at meetings, the focus is on service learning, helping kids plan and design a project, then guiding, mentoring and following up.

Cain’s first program is June 6 in Hays at the Agricultural Research Center, 1232 240th Ave., open to 12- to 18-year-olds. Signup is open through this week for the all-day workshop, which will offer hands-on team-building and leadership concepts, combined with service learning.

Other workshops will be offered once a week throughout the summer in northwest Kansas, plus any scheduled by other organizations.

Cain, from Admire, in the fall will student teach agriculture at Hays High School, grades nine through 12, under Curt Vajnar.

Despite the stormy weather this weekend, she applied for the Hansen internship to learn about western Kansas kids, she said.

“I was excited to work with the youth and the Extension group out in northwest Kansas so I really hadn’t experienced western Kansas much. I grew up in eastern Kansas, had great experience working in Salina,” Cain said. “I really wanted to branch out.”

Espinosa will help with programs from Ellis County to Saline County and north to the Nebraska border.

Espinosa, a senior at Fort Hays State University from Garden City, is working on a degree in information technology with an emphasis on web development. That prepares him to work with databases and developing web code.

Espinosa will serve 10 to 15 counties from here to Salina north to the border with Nebraska.

He’ll be teaching kids about flying drones, and the rules and regulations that go with it.

Arriving Friday, he got familiar with the program and software format, and also tried to fly the drone, but strong winds and rain over the weekend didn’t make it easy.

“I went to the Fort Hays campus, kind of just went around and got some pictures and videos of the area,” Espinosa said.

Drone camp for ages 11 and up will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 2 at the Ag Research Center in Hays.

“I think it would be cool to go out to different communities, and travel and show kids about drones,” Espinosa said. “There’s always something different when it comes to teaching.”

Ridnour started Tuesday afternoon preparing for Ellis County’s Animal Management Skillathon, a competition from 10 to 11:30 a.m. July 16 at Deutschfest Hall at the Ellis County fairgrounds.

The Skillathon tests 4-Her’s animal knowledge on crops, equipment, identification and animal health. Winners in each division are recognized, with one senior advancing to the state fair contest, Ag Challenge of Champions.

“Every county can send one,” Schlichting said. “It’s been a couple years ago we had a kid that won the top and I think it was a $2,000 scholarship.”

Ridnour, who is a fifth-generation farmer, says her family’s farm raises row crops, hay, and dairy and meat show goats, as well as club cattle, or show cattle.

She expects to end up in St. Francis, where her boyfriend is from.

“I’d like to learn the Kansas Extension side of it,” Ridnour said.