Does Purpose Grow Here? Exploring 4-H as a Context for Cultivating Youth Purpose

Anthony L. Burrow, Kaylin Ratner, Sabrina Porcelli, Rachel Sumner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Most youth development programs strive to promote thriving, but scientific inquiry into how they achieve this aim is rare and often complicated by nuanced program structures and delivery. Across two studies, we explored how one thriving indicator, having a sense of purpose in life, may be cultivated by a statewide 4-H program. In Study 1, an inductive text mining approach called latent Dirichlet allocation (LDA) was used to content analyze 63 4-H practitioners’ definitions of purpose and focus group conversations about how the program fosters this sense in youth. In Study 2, 113 4-H participants (aged 12–18 years, Mage = 14.77; 66% female) reported their purpose exploration and commitment and the extent to which they have engaged with particular program experiences. The LDA suggested educators believe 4-H fosters purpose by offering diverse and transformative activities that equip youth with key resources. Youth reports largely corroborated these beliefs: Correlational analyses revealed youth who felt they acquired life skills in 4-H reported greater purpose commitment, whereas youth who felt they had access to older youth with long-term aspirations reported greater purpose exploration. Implications for how 4-H and other programs might scaffold activities to promote youth purpose are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)471-500
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of Adolescent Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • 4-H
  • adolescence
  • machine learning
  • mixed methodology
  • purpose

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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