Young scholars gather

Tuesday, June 12, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:45 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008
Dustin Visentin from Sedalia, center, explains his stance on bomb scares during discussions at the Missouri Scholars Academy on Monday. Included in Visentin’s circle are, from left, Kevin Robb, Chastity Pashia, Mack Su and David Lopez.

Three hundred and thirty of Missouri’s brightest students have convened at MU to participate in the 23rd Annual Missouri Scholars Academy.

“It’s a teacher’s paradise,” said Lou Jobst, who has taught at the academy since 1985. “I know, it almost sounds too good to be true.”

He cited the small classes and bright, motivated students. Jobst said the campus and course topics have changed over the years, but the academy, which is funded by the state of Missouri and by the Gifted Association of Missouri, has essentially remained the same.

Public schools in Missouri can nominate at least one sophomore and potentially more based on the size of the schools. These students represent the top 0.5 percent of the state academically.

The students, who arrived at MU on Sunday, will stay for three weeks, living in Mark Twain residence hall.

This week the academy will try to build community through group activities. Next week, they will work on taking risks, which will culminate with a talent show. The third week, the academy will help prepare the students for re-entry in their home communities, both through activities such as letter-writing to senators and by encouraging them to keep in touch with each other.

“There’s a major obligation to take what you learn and integrate it back home, and not to alienate people,” Jobst said. He said he hears from students who are frustrated by their inability to adequately describe the experience to non-Missouri Scholars. “You have to be there,” Jobst said.

Those who have experienced the program continue to come back. Alumni have a feverish enthusiasm for and loyalty to the program. Arthi Vellore, who participated in the scholars academy in 2003 and is a residential adviser this summer, said she was excited her sister Adithi would participate this year. But she tried not to tell her what to expect.

“I wanted her to be able to create her own experience.”

Vellore said the academy is an especially life-changing experience because “students are especially receptive of ideas and incorporating them into their worldview at this age.”

“In high school, there are so many cliques. Here you really are a part of a community,” said Chris Young, program coordinator and academy alum from 2000. “In high school, there are teachers and students, and here we are just one.”

In order to create stronger personal relationships, scholars leave their televisions, computers and video games at home. Cell phones must be kept in the residence hall, but MP3 players are allowed.

“I’m really missing the NBA finals,” said Taylor Smith, a junior from Hallsville High School.

Still, Smith knew what to expect. He knew someone who went last year. “My friend wouldn’t stop talking about it,” he said.

In the first 24 hours, he had already bonded with the other students.

“I’ve definitely made some friends,” he said. “I can’t say if I’ll be friends with them for the rest of my life, but some of them, I hope so.”

These friendships are vital to the program. “Students give as much to each other as faculty do,” Vellore said.

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