The Carol Martin Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science in Kentucky honored its first group of students to complete the advanced, two-year program.

Fifty-five students representing 35 counties from across the Commonwealth were recognized during Saturday’s ceremony held at E. A. Diddle Arena. The ceremony not only celebrated the significant accomplishments for this first cohort of students but also looked toward the infinite possibilities ahead for the program’s graduates.

Gatton Academy Executive Director Julia Roberts expressed the day’s events were not only a celebration of the Class of 2009’s personal accomplishments but also a milestone for Kentucky.

“Celebrations come in many kinds,” Roberts said. “For you, today is the time to celebrate both academic and personal accomplishments. Today we celebrate that the Commonwealth of Kentucky provides this challenging educational opportunity for young Kentuckians who need to be with peers who are ready to learn at advanced levels. We celebrate that the Gatton Academy is dedicated to developing leaders in math, science, engineering, and technology to ensure a bright future for Kentucky.”
David Laird, Senior Vice President for Strategy and Business Development, Jewish Hospital and St. Mary’s Healthcare of Louisville, delivered the commencement address. Laird encouraged the graduates to establish their place in an ever-changing world while resolving themselves to mastery of their pursuits.

“You’re getting ready to step in a new direction,” Laird said. “Find your footing. Be sure of your direction. Follow your passion. Ride the wave of change if there are opportunities.”

Over the past two years, Gatton Academy students have taken advanced coursework in mathematics, science and other subjects at WKU in fulfillment of high school requirements and the Gatton Academy curriculum. In all, students have each earned over sixty hours of college credit.

Gatton Academy Director Tim Gott shared his gratitude with attending faculty members for their role in making the program’s learning environment a challenging and rewarding experience for students.

“Faculty members have been responsible for engaging the minds of these students through the provision of rigorous coursework and introducing them to advanced concepts not typically available to high school students,” Gott said. “They answer questions while providing a host of new ones to follow. More importantly, they also give freely of their time and share their personal explorations as mentors in research.”

53 percent of students participated in a facilitated research project with university faculty members. Research accomplishments include WKU’s first Department of Defense SMART scholarship recipient and WKU’s only 2009 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship winner.

Rachel Bowman, a graduating senior from Murray and recipient of the SMART scholarship, reflected upon her experience as an Academy student and the bonds shared by her community of fellow learners.

“I quickly realized when I got here that there was one thing we had in common: passion,” Bowman said. “It was not abnormal intelligence or unprecedented talent, but that we cared about something, anything. Being here has simply given us the tools we need to pursue these passions even further.”

In pursuit of those academic goals, three out of four graduates plan to attend Kentucky higher education institutions with 23 continuing their studies at WKU.
In the fall of 2009, representatives from the graduating class will attend sixteen schools across the United States: Agnes Scott College, Case Western Reserve University, Faulkner University, Hendrix College, Kettering University, Marymount Manhattan College, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Murray State University, Point Park University, Sewanee: The University of the South, Smith College, Thomas More College, University of Kentucky, University of Louisville, University of Miami, and Western Kentucky University. Three out of four graduates will continue their studies at Kentucky institutions of higher learning.
Four-year scholarships totaling over $7.5 million were offered to the graduating class while over $3 million in four-year scholarships were accepted.

Ten members of the senior class were named Kentucky Governor’s Scholars. Three members of the class were selected as National Merit finalists. In all, seniors completed a total of 2240 hours of community service during their time at the Gatton Academy.

“These students have taken the most rigorous curriculum offered to any high school student in the nation,” Gott said. “They left the comfort of home and established a level of independence that will impact their lives forever. They have forged new friendships which will grow exponentially in the years to come. They have given themselves in community service throughout the state inspiring younger students, building new homes, and expanding awareness of the opportunities in math and science. They will become the leaders of this great Commonwealth.”

In the end, Bowman and her classmates are ready for the new challenges ahead thanks to the preparation they have obtained at the Gatton Academy and WKU.

“The best kind of education allows someone to not just know their field but to be the one who redefines it,” Bowman said. “That’s exactly what we’ve received here.”

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