Gatton students participate in summer learning experiences

Rising Gatton senior Wendy Cecil is a recipient of the inaugural WKU Sisterhood Research Internship grant. She is conducting research with WKU chemistry department and Mammoth Cave conservation over the summer. Clinton Lewis/WKU Photography

Rebekah Alvey

This summer 93 of 160 students from the Gatton Academy will be participating in summer learning opportunities. 

Students are experiencing research opportunities, internships, service projects and study abroad trips over the summer. Gatton students are selected high school juniors and seniors with a focus on math or science. 

Derick Strode, head of the Gatton Academy academic program, said creating and advertising these opportunities to students is a focus a Gatton. He said the large number of students this year is important because it’s proof that while Gatton is growing, they are maintaining the same quality. 

“All through the school year we are focusing on the summer,” Strode said. 

Some organizations and institutions such as the Wood Hudson Cancer Research Institute in Newport have been working with Gatton students over the summer since 2008. Cheryl Kirby-Stokes, academic opportunities coordinator, said organizations know that Gatton students have the right work ethic and want to learn, so they are happy to work with and hire them. 

In addition to finding opportunities for students, Stokes said she is working to build the reputation of Gatton as an institution. 

There is an emphasis on building experiences and completing research while at Gatton. Strode said as soon as a student arrives they are introducing and pushing these opportunities, and while research it is not a requirement, most students have mentored projects. 

The WKU Sisterhood Research Internship Grant is a new offering to specifically Gatton girls who come from underrepresented backgrounds. Stokes and Strode wrote the grant and received $19,000 for three years.

Rising Gatton senior Wendy Cecil was a recipient of the grant and is working with the WKU chemistry department and Mammoth Cave conservation by studying Bald Eagle samples. Cecil said her research is something she wouldn’t be able to experience at her home high school and being close to WKU is convenient.

Already, Cecil and her mentor have found things in their research that they are considering publishing. Cecil said the internship and publication could be appealing to colleges. 

Throughout the year, the Gatton office helps students work on applications and write essays that would get them accepted into programs. Strode said they would often send students to WKU’s Office of Scholar Development. 

OSD shares the goal of giving students advanced experience off campus and Strode said Gatton has a great relationship with the office. During the fall semester, there is an intern from OSD that works from Florence Schneider Hall during the critical application time to mentor Gatton students.

Stokes said they hope Gatton students will remain at WKU and having a bond with a program such as OSD can help them in the future and influence them to stay. 

Stokes said students that take advantage of these opportunities are learning how to be independent and communication skills which are  essential. Some students are also learning how to write professional documents for publication. 

“It’s the hallmark of our academic program, these experiences that go beyond the classroom,” Strode said. “We have fantastic curriculum and faculty, but this could be the thing that makes us different.”

Reporter Rebekah Alvey can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected].