The first day of college is very different for each person at the Academy. You have juniors who are nervous and are highly anticipating their first time in a college classroom and seniors who are dreading a day full of syllabus summaries and the beginning of homework. While there are many differences in how people view the first day, one thing is for certain, the first day is the beginning of change for us all at the Academy. Juniors are beginning the first major step in a brand new experience. Seniors are beginning the home stretch to the next step in life, real college. This year will hold many new experiences and memories, and today is just the beginning.
Like any typical high school, Gatton hosts a variety of clubs for students to join. This past Saturday, we had a Club Fair with a variety of clubs headed by the seniors at The Academy. We have traditional clubs like Beta Club, FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America), and Yearbook as well as some more unusual clubs like Ultimate Frisbee Club, Niven Club, and Cooking Club. While Gatton doesn’t have as many clubs as a regular high school, students are free to start a club.
Gatton students balance their tough courses with the extracurriculars The Academy offers. Many look forward to participating in non-academic activities in their free time and love to be a part of something that enhances the Gatton community. The Club Fair was especially fun for the incoming juniors, for they didn’t know that Gatton would have so many clubs to choose from. It was also fun for the seniors, as there were a few new clubs that were started this year, like the Harry Potter Alliance and Hindi Club. All and all, clubs are an integral part of The Academy and provide another way for students to be passionate about what they love.
Ask anyone who knows me, and they will tell you that I don’t take that title as a joke. There is something about the rhythm that just makes me want to move my feet! I have never met a group of people in my life that all feel comfortable enough to have fun doing things they are terrible at. It’s not to say that all of Gatton can’t dance, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that we weren’t a dancing academy. Regardless of our dancing ability, most all of us got out on the dance floor at least once and had a great time.
Even when it seemed that the dance wasn’t meant to work out – the lights wouldn’t turn out, the speakers were too small, the music was without a playlist – The Gatton Academy persisted and persevered. We taped construction paper to the lights, we gathered all our speakers together, and we all took turns choosing songs.
I remember my junior year adventure week dance. I had never danced before. I was content with being one of those who just sit on the sidelines and watch. I didn’t want to risk the embarrassment of looking silly in front of all my new peers. But after a while, I realized that there were others just like me who were not very good at dancing, one was even doing jumping jacks! With the encouragement of a few, I made those crucial first steps out on the dance floor. At first I kept it simple: step to the left, step to the right. Then I began to sing along. And before you knew it, my hips were moving in directions that I didn’t know was possible! I did a little jig, a shimmy followed by a head-roll, threw in some footwork and added some special “Jerry” jazz. By the end of the next couple dances, I had a “Jerry Dance” fan club! Of course most were not watching because they were impressed, but at the same time, I don’t feel they were laughing at me, rather with me. And that sort of environment is hard to come by.
I could tell that the juniors felt the same way as I did when I was in their place, which is why I am proud to say that at one point in time I didn’t see a single person standing against the wall too shy to dance. Who knows, maybe there is a “Jerry” protégé in the works…
If you have ever attended one of The Gatton Academy’s Preview Days, the Genome program should sound familiar. This program, also known as Howard Hughes Medical Institute Science Education Alliance-Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science (SEA-PHAGES), is one of the more interesting opportunities offered by the Academy. The Genome program is designed for those interested in microbiology. It gives both wet and dry lab experience, but the long hours and demanding course load can be challenging unless you are very interested in the topic. However, if you love virology and microbiology, this is probably the best experience you can get. The Genome program is a rare experience as it requires a real wet lab that can only be provided by university-level research complex.
The Genome program is listed in WKU’s class catalog as Biology 275. It counts as a biology elective and gives two credit hours. However, that number is misleading—Genome was the most time consuming of all my classes at Gatton. On paper, it was two hours in the afternoon on Tuesdays and Thursdays. However, due to the nature of the class, one may come in far more often. The goal of the class is to isolate a novel bacteriophage. This process involves taking a soil sample, drawing out the phages in the soil, isolating a single type of phage, and extracting its genetic information. This requires growing phages on bacterial lawns, which is requires a different amount of time for each phage. Some plates are ready in 24 hours, others require more than 48. For this reason, I often found myself coming in almost every day to ensure proper phage growth. However, at the end of the class, you certainly feel a sense of accomplishment, as all the time and effort you spent pays off with finding your very own phage.
Naomi Rowland, Dr. Claire Rinehart, and Dr. Rodney King are excellent professors for this class. Mrs. Rowland, who started this past fall, has been Biotechnology Center Coordinator since 2009. Dr. Rinehart has been with Western Kentucky University’s Biology Department since 1988. Dr. King has been leading this program since its start at WKU and is the 2014 recipient of Kentucky Academy of Science Distinguished College or University Teacher Award. This class, while taxing, is an excellent opportunity for one interested in microbiology and virology and if you desire wet lab and research experience, I highly recommend the Genome program.
It was Day Zero of Adventure Week, but none of the bags weighed zero pounds. Blessed with a sunny move in/out day for the first time in our involvement at Gatton, the senior community leaders heroically transported suitcases, fridges, and textbook boxes from parents’ cars to students’ rooms. The seniors’ exclamations of “I love my baby juniors already!” inaugurated the vibe that will last throughout the year.
As the juniors said their goodbyes to parents and their typical high school lives, they were greeted into a community of acceptance and support. Through the first meeting of Adventure Week and the acquaintance of juniors with their Accountabilibuddies (that’s a Beth term), the Academy commenced its 2015-2016 school year as a tightly woven family.
The ethereal beings that dwell on academy “wings” are unique to the community that is The Gatton Academy. They are rarely spotted outside their natural habitat and are only seen outside due to class, social interaction, meals, or research endeavors. Within their domain, residential counselors, or RC’s (here at Gatton, we love our acronyms) are absolutely essential to their survival. Each RC ensures that students have clean rooms, a somewhat stable mental health, and a supply of Walmart and Kroger runs. Staple elements of wing culture include playing ultimate Frisbee (rain or shine), video games, an unhealthy obsession with climbing random objects, carbs, and Netflix. Wing culture can be partially accredited to the work of community developers (CD’s), who give each wing a unique theme and guarantee that even the strongest of hermits will occasionally drop their introverted tendencies.
Overall, wings are thriving environments that support lasting friendships and provide help with any problem a student could possibly have. After all, here at Gatton, we are just winging it.
Day 1 of adventure week: the start of countless info meetings, first group lunch dates, and, my personal favorite, the introduction of faculty-led research. Today, Derick introduced the juniors to faculty-led research with a brief meeting, and then held the research fair with various WKU professors.
Professors gathered while the juniors had their session with Derick to set up their research information posters, computer demos, and other tactile tools to present their work. While research topics are increasingly specific for a given mentor, professors’ broad interests ranged from applied mathematics and physics all the way to geography and manufacturing engineering sciences. When it came time for juniors to make their way to each professor, I noticed a mixture of confused and excited looks coming from each student. While they likely had little to no experience with a lot of the very detailed work these great professors were discussing, many obviously found a small spark of interest. The adventure week research fair is a great way for students to get a head start on considering a research project, and it often has a large influence on the project a student will pursue at any given time during their Academy career.
Seeing the juniors showing their personalities and explicit STEM interests was very exciting, and honestly a great way to hype students up for their very first semester. I can’t wait to see all the great connections and relationships my juniors will make with their research mentors and all the amazing work they will accomplish!
By: Niven Achenjang
The Gatton Academy is well known for its academics and while people are not surprised to hear talk of its challenging courses, research opportunities, or study abroad trips, there is little talk of the Gatton community, and, more specifically, of sports at the Academy.
Attending the Academy are athletes of many walks. We have students who run, play tennis, play Frisbee, play basketball, fence, or enjoy one of a host of other sporting events. Most mornings, you can find us leaving the hall and running around campus or out towards town. Most evenings, we head towards Preston to play Frisbee, work out, or play basketball. I speak specifically of these because they are what I do; however, it does not take much asking around to find someone who plays one of the other aforementioned sports.
Regarding sports, there is always the question of sports outside of Gatton. In coming to Gatton, many of us had to choose to leave an athletic team at our home school. While we cannot compete with them anymore competitively, it is always ok to meet up with our previous team and play a pick-up game together non-competitively.
If someone is a hardcore competitor and is not satisfied with relaxed games, then they can compete in WKU’s intramural sports. For example, we had both soccer and basketball teams last year, and we will have both again this year. Being on an intramural team allows students to see how they compare with people older them, and motivates them to get better. Despite being an academic school, our intramural teams can do fairly well; our soccer team last year only lost one game.
It is important to mention that there is no fixed “norm” for sports at the Academy. More than likely, there will always be people who play basketball, Frisbee, or soccer, but you do not have to play any of those (except maybe Frisbee), and you can play something else. There are a lot of students at the Academy so chances are that you can find someone with similar athletic interests. If you cannot, then you can probably find a WKU student who shares your love of your favorite sport. Getting a game of any sport started is as simple as asking around to see if anyone wants to play it, and then actually going to play it.
We grow up hearing that college is a lot different than school through twelfth grade and there will be a huge increase in responsibility. This isn’t far from the truth. You aren’t in class seven hours a day. While some classes are similar in size to high school classrooms, there are lecture courses with over 200 students. The professors won’t remind you to study or turn in assignments. They won’t typically give you a study guide consisting of the actual test questions. There is no requirement to give you a good grade.
At The Gatton Academy, we are high school students enrolled in university courses. We are required to adjust to the new and different environment. I started at the Academy with some worry about being successful in a college class. After the first few weeks, I learned the campus and got into a good routine with my study habits and organization. My uncertainties subsided and a certain confidence ensued.
There are a few things I would recommend to ensure that there is as easy a transition as possible into college classes for new students. Print out your syllabi and read them carefully. It is useful to go into your courses aware of the expectations and scheduled topics of study. Get ahead. Read the chapter or handout required before class. You will have an easier time understanding the lecture and when recalling information while preparing for tests. Be aware of deadlines. These deadlines can be for assignments, forms, etc. Make sure you turn in work in a timely manner. High school teachers are usually more lenient with late work than professors. Ask for help. If you have a question or are struggling with a course, ask the tutors or a senior. They will be more than willing to help. Do not wait until last minute to try your best. You will be a lot less anxious when finals week rolls around to not have to receive an A to increase your grade. Digging yourself a hole in the beginning from not studying or managing your courses well enough will only stress you out more has the time you have to improve runs out.
In the end, college isn’t all about academics. It is a time to figure out who you are and what you stand for. The Academy is only two years, so make sure you take every opportunity and make every moment matter.
Here we are again starting another year of growth and challenges at the Gatton Academy. When I entered last year, I, like most at the time, knew little of what trials were to await me upon passing through the threshold of this new world. An aspiring aerospace engineer, I had arrived from a school more focused on football than physics with the goal to advance my knowledge and save the world. Though the progress of the second goal is debatable, a very good case could be made that I succeeded in my pursuit of furthering my academic ability and experience.
We were told we would be forced to work and think at a pace and level never before demanded from us in school thus far, but most of us didn’t take that to heart until we were dropped into our first real college classes. I can still remember the first paper I ever had to write for one of my professors, the first piece of calculus homework, every first you can think of and several you can’t. The academics were why we had all come, and we certainly got what we asked for, some of us more than we bargained for. Talk about deer in the headlights.
Most of us made it through, forming bonds along the way and learning far more than what our professors dictated to us. We learned about friendship and how to live in a community of like-minded individuals (and several not so like-minded). I personally learned that I was both smarter than and not as smart as I thought I was. We also learned that the definition of smart is somewhat arbitrary and ultimately pointless.
Now that I begin my second year at the academy, what should I be thinking about? There are so many aspects I could turn my attention to. There’s the classes getting harder, but they are also ultimately more exciting. Instead of being led, this year I am leading. The interesting part to me is that I really don’t know what I should be looking forward to or exactly how this year is going to go. Just like last year.
There will be late nights, long days, rough starts, and bittersweet endings to be sure. I’m sure the academy will teach me just as many tough lessons this year as it did in the last. It would be naïve to think that it will be a smooth ride all the way through. There will be lows for every high the year brings. With the looming specter of college applications reminding me that I will not be here next year, though, I can say one thing for certain about this upcoming year.
I will be drinking in every moment.