COLUMBIA — Each June, Mark Twain Hall welcomes a crop of students a couple of years younger than your usual crowd of dorm residents. Through June 28, 328 high school scholars from around the state come to MU for three weeks to broaden their minds and grow as people.
High school sophomores headed into their junior year are eligible for the Missouri Scholars Academy, a program organized to offer summer enrichment to high-achieving students.
“The high schools decide who to apply, and then a committee in Jefferson City decides who goes,” said Rick Vogt, a 1988 Missouri Scholars Academy alumnus who has returned for nine of the past 16 years to help support and teach new scholars.
Once the scholars reach Mark Twain, they are separated into committees and assigned to stay on specific floors known as houses. In becoming a part of the program, scholars choose a major — for example, mathematics, science, humanities or social studies — and a minor — education, religion, marine biology or problem-solving — to learn about during their stay.
The academy, which is funded through the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, hosts a “Personal and Social Dynamics” program as part of its curriculum. It is intended to focus on real-life issues important to teenagers. They talk with co-facilitators about issues such as how to communicate effectively, personal ethics, dealing with people with viewpoints different than their own and setting goals for the future.
Even though the program started in 1985, Ted Tarkow, associate dean of the MU College of Arts and Science, said the academy hasn’t changed too much over the years.
“The fundamental purpose and nature of the program has stayed the same,” he said. “Students have focus to show what their potential can eventually lead to.”
Tarkow, who was in on discussions with the state in 1984 about creating the academy, continues to work with the scholars.
“I guess one thing is I like working with extremely talented students, faculty and staff,” he said. “It’s a chance to work with wonderful people.”
Vogt said he comes back because it’s a unique, worthwhile experience for the students, and it gives him a chance to give back to a program that gave to him. “It lets me be creative,” Vogt said. “I just completed my MBA. I teach a leadership class, and (teaching here) helps reinforce what I’ve learned.”
He also finds that he gets “intellectual inspiration provided by the teenagers who are seeking knowledge in deeper and wider avenues.”
Sarah Jenkins, a 2000 Missouri Scholars Academy alumna, has returned to work with the academy for the past four years.
“I graduated from college two years ago, and I like being back in this community,” Jenkins said. “This keeps my brain active, and it’s exciting being around students that are curious and excited to learn.”
Jennifer Farmer of Clarence is one of this year’s scholars. She said she is excited about the program.
“I was concerned about the things I might miss, but I thought about things I would take with me from here the rest of my life,” she said.
Though the Missouri Scholars Academy plays host to some of the smartest students in Missouri, Farmer said everyone expresses her or his intelligence differently.
“I really don’t consider myself one of the smartest,” Farmer said. “Here, it’s good to stand out. You can tell some people are geniuses, and others you have to get to know. Their intelligence is based on different categories.”
She said scholars first meet people through their houses, then through their majors, minors and social time. In the afternoons and on weekends, scholars can participate in activities such as debate, journalism, art workshops, chorus and creative writing.
“It’s been packed full of stuff to do,” Farmer said. “Every day you meet new people, and I like meeting new people.”
“Kids come up to you and say, ‘Hi, how are you?’” she added. “Everybody is really excited to meet other people like them, people who share the same interests, what they want to be when (they) grow up, your belief. It’s very diverse.”