Catching insects caught on with Max Harman, and over a decade later, he’s training up the next generation of 4-H entomologists.

“It’s definitely different from typical projects like showing a bucket calf or making foods for the fair,” Harman said. “Since my collection is pretty full, I supplement my project now by acting more as a mentor with less insect collecting. I have my show collection, but the bulk of my project is teaching others and sharing about the project with the public.”

Going in to his senior year at Inman High School, Harman has participated in the entomology project over his 11-year 4-H career. The project consists of collecting, pinning and identifying different insects, but it takes more skill than expected to catch a bug.

“It’s not something you can just start,” said Lindsey Friesen, 4-H youth and development agent with the McPherson County K-State Research and Extension office. “There’s a bit of a process in pinning bugs, and obviously they’re very fragile, so there’s a great group of teens and adults who help younger kids out.”

Harman’s own collection of nearly 350 insects is striking to passers-by, which gives him a chance to describe difference between specimens and their impact on ecosystems.

“I’ve gotten my collection to the point where it’s mostly big, cool trophies. I could have put in all the little beetles that do well in judging, since it’s scored based on the number of insects, but I’ve turned mine into more of a novelty display that I can do presentations with and share the best looking ones with the public,” Harman said. “A comment I get a lot from people is that they never knew there were so many types of dragonflies or grasshoppers or whatnot. People just kind of assume a grasshopper is a grasshopper is a grasshopper and they don’t see the variety until you can compare them side-by-side. Once they see that, they go home and notice those little differences.”

Harman uses his experience with the project to assist younger participants.

“I’ve learned so much over the past 11 years that it’s cool to be able to give younger 4-Hers all these little tips and tricks that I had to find the hard way,” Harman laughed. “Collecting bugs is a little bit out there for most kids. It’s a lot of new learning because not many people know about it going in to the project. Since no one really knows what it’s about, they’re a bit hesitant, but once you get into it, it loses some of that weirdness and it’s something to learn more about.”

For Harman, mentoring younger 4-Hers is a new way to participate in the project, but also gather soft skills not available in a curriculum.

“For younger members, 4-H is about the project — you work on it all year and take it to the fair that summer. As you get older, those projects are still an important part, but discovering more facets of what 4-H can mean to you becomes the focus,” Harman said. “For me, a large part of that has been public speaking and doing interviews about 4-H. That’s something I enjoy but I wouldn’t have developed those soft skills without 4-H. You gain those alongside the project, it’s just the avenue to get you there.”

Contact Cheyenne Derksen Schroeder by email at cderksen@mcphersonsentinel.com or follow her on Twitter at @MacSentinel.