In My Skin: Gatton students find community at the Academy

Henderson native, Joseph Crafton, measures out chemicals in his Quantitative Analysis class at Thompson Complex Center Wing on Tuesday Feb. 25. Crafton is in his final semester at the Gatton Academy and hopes to study chemistry at Vanderbilt after graduation. “I don’t mind being labeled a Gatton kid,” Crafton said. “No one asks most of the time. I usually fit right in.” After college and grad school, Crafton’s ultimate goal is to become a trauma surgeon. (Luke Franke/HERALD)

Kristina Burton

In My Skin is a weekly feature series that looks to tell the stories of diverse student populations at WKU. Its goal is to serve as a simple reminder that WKU is location of diversity — or at least trying to be.


When Joseph Crafton showed up for move-in day at the Gatton Academy, the math and science school’s seniors swarmed Crafton’s family car to help him with the move-in process.

They carried all of Crafton’s belongings upstairs, and he and his family unpacked to organize his room before making a last-minute Wal-Mart trip to get groceries.

Crafton, a 17-year-old high school senior, and his family spent the rest of the day exploring campus and his new residence.

“My parents were obsessed with taking pictures of me,” Crafton, a Spottsville native, said.

After a meeting with all of the new students and their families, it was time to say good-bye to his own.

“My mom and dad said they’d never seen me happier than when I was around other academy students, so they knew it was the best place for me to be,” he said.

The Gatton Academy is Kentucky’s only state-supported residential high school for students interested in pursuing advanced careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Instead of spending their junior and senior years in traditional high schools, 121 students take all their coursework through WKU with traditional college students. For academy students, tuition, housing and meals come at no cost to them or their families.

Crafton knew about the Gatton Academy before the first class of students moved into Florence Schneider Hall.

“One of our family friends’ eldest daughter was in the first academy class,” Crafton said. “My family has always been really involved with being proactive in gifted education, so it was definitely on the radar from a very young age.”

Crafton said he wasn’t really being challenged at his hometown high school.

“I was maxed out in classes I could take at my level by the end of my sophomore year,” Crafton said. “I really didn’t have much else to do there.”

Crafton said the Gatton Academy was a place in which he felt comfortable.

“I didn’t really fit in at home, but I fit in here really well,” Crafton said. He has now been at WKU for two years. “It’s an all-around good match — academically and socially — for me.”

Paul Hudson, a 17-year-old Benton junior in high school, said the Gatton Academy community is a driving force for everyone there.

“We’re almost one of the biggest clubs on campus, you could say,” Hudson said. “We’re all really close and can all help each other. Even if we get stuck, there’s always someone here that can help.”

Crafton said he’s never had a bad experience with any of the older college students he’s been in class with here at WKU.

“I always try and get to know the people in my classes, so whatever judgment anybody has on me is based on how we interact in class — not the label I have as an academy student,” Crafton said.

Crafton said the highlight of his academy experience thus far would be his research.

“All of last year and a bit over last summer I did microbiology research with bacteriophage,” Crafton said. “It taught me a lot about myself, biology and also got me lab-certified so I can serve as a TA or work in a lab.”

Crafton said he got to present his research twice with undergraduate and graduate students.

“People were really interested in what I was doing and reciprocated interest whenever I was interested in what they were doing,” he said.

Hannah Weber, an 18-year-old Alexandria Gatton senior, said pushing yourself and getting out of your comfort zone can be really rewarding.

“The relationships I’ve made here will last forever,” Weber said. “It’s all worth it in the end—taking chances and challenges and having them turn out great.”

After graduating from the Gatton Academy, Crafton said he wants to attend Vanderbilt, Duke or Washington University in St. Louis.

“I am definitely considering staying at WKU, but my dream schools are all private institutions,” Crafton said. “I’ve loved Vandy and Duke for a very long time, and my decision for post-Gatton education depends solely on scholarships.”

Crafton said if he doesn’t attend one of those three universities, he will likely attend the University of Kentucky and finish his undergraduate degree.

“I plan to double major in chemistry and mathematics or chemistry and biology,” Crafton said. “I’m also pre-med at the moment, so post undergrad, I want to enter an MD Ph.D. program and become a trauma surgeon.”

Crafton said coming to the Gatton Academy has not only helped his mind grow but has helped his social skills as well.

“Whenever you’re at the academy, you’re in contact with all these people who have all sorts of titles, so you have to know how to carry yourself and represent the school well,” Crafton said.

“By being here and being proactive, you benefit yourself in more ways than one, but also the academy, because it lets people know what this is and what it stands for.”