News, student successes, and experiences from our Atypical High School.



By: Lydia Buzzard

Buzzard, Lydia 2On Friday, November 7th, alongside four other Gatton Academy students, I attended my first hackathon. Hackathons are programming competitions for software developers of all skill levels, and while my team was nowhere near skilled enough to be truly competitive, HackNashville opened its doors to us.

We set up “camp” at a choice location—close to power outlets and the incredible catered food—and for the majority of the next forty-eight hours, this was home. We hatched an idea to create a mobile app that would solve just one of our everyday issues: laundry. We didn’t want to change the world; we only sought knowledge and the unique air of an environment inhabited by some of the world’s under-appreciated engineers. I’m happy to say that we found those things.

Our mobile app, native to Android and iOS, allows Gatton Academy students to simplify their chores by viewing the status of the laundry room at any given time. It notifies the user when his/her laundry is complete, as well as when a “watched” machine becomes available. We all left on Sunday evening more knowledgeable than when we’d arrived. D.J. and I delved into the depths of Android development, Peter finally had a chance to learn how to code with Swift for iPhone, and Vir and Noah studied the structure of internet servers.

But these lessons were not the most important of the weekend. On Saturday night, a group of us talked over dinner about our respective relationships with Computer Science before we came to the Academy. It had been an almost entirely foreign concept to us all. The apparent, show-stopping truth was that without our acceptance to the Academy, we would know nothing about the field we had immersed ourselves in. The same could be said of the people in our group; the Academy had brought us together, the subject and the students, and that was not something to be taken for granted.

We did not win an award at HackNashville 6, but the skills we learned and the photographs we took will show that we were not disappointed. We drove away on Sunday night exhausted, grateful, and above all, ready for HackNashville 7.

0 Comments Short URL

Bill Nye Visit

Michael EvansBill Nye with WKU and Gatton Academy representatives

“Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill!” The sold-out crowd in Diddle Arena chanted as the hero of their collective childhood strode onto stage in his signature suit and bow-tie. Bill Nye, host of popular television show “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” had finally come to give a presentation at WKU. Nye’s visit was part of the WKU Cultural Enhancement Series, and The Gatton Academy was one of the sponsors. Academy students had priority seating, but it was a greatly anticipated event for most of the students at WKU.

The opening of Nye’s presentation set a humorous tone for the entire event. He feigned great difficulty in opening his laptop, even replicating one of the various falls that he experienced on the show. Once he finally got it set up, the presentation began in earnest. He told us about how he was inspired by his father, a WWII veteran who, after being placed in aBill Nye and Gus Madsen Japanese POW camp with no electricity, became fascinated with sundials. Nye, although he poked fun at it for a solid 30 minutes, ended up being influenced by his father’s love of sundials to the extent that he helped design the MarsDial, a sundial used to calibrate the cameras on Mars Rovers.

The focus then shifted to the importance of science education for the young adults of today. Several nearly cataclysmic meteor events were shown to us, with the warning that, if a meteor ever hits the Earth, our civilization would grind to a halt. Nye charged us with a mission to, in his words, “SAVE THE WORLD!” (said at the volume that you would imagine). He described various methods to derail potential meteor collisions, and the ways that we could help move the technology forward.

After that segment, Nye answered selected questions tweeted to WKU. He told us about his 300 bow-ties, the ease of understanding Klingon over the arguments of Ken Ham, and two of his favorite science jokes, which, although they were hilarious, I’m afraid to print. I will say that they were perfect closers to a perfect event, one that will be remembered for years to come.


0 Comments Short URL

5th Week Assessment

Jenna Willett

The Academy is in its fifth week of classes and that means fifth week assessment for the students. What exactly is the fifth week assessment? To answer this query, April Gaskey, Coordinator of Academic Services, says, “The fifth week assessment is used by WKU to assess and identify students in 100 level courses that may need improvement. The Academy uses this assessment time to acquire grade information for all students in all courses. It is really a great way for us to identify the handful of students who are struggling, some of whom would never admit it, and get them the help they need on the front end.”

The fifth week is also an opportune time for professors to give exams or quizzes, which means the first taste of exam stress for some Academy students. It may be a strenuous time, but it is far from being a “pass or fail” moment for the students. If a student is struggling during fifth week assessment, that does not mean they cannot make it at the Academy. What it really means is that they need a little help and, thankfully, the Academy is fit to do just that. Tutors, study hours, office hours with professors, study plans, and weekly meetings with April are available to keep students on track to success.

If you are a parent reading this and wondering how your son or daughter is faring during this time, know that there are people willing to lend them a helping hand. Students here are doing fine and adjusting well to the work load. Learning to ask for and accept help is part of learning to be successful. Fifth week is just another week here at the Academy.

0 Comments Short URL

Class of 2016 Leadership Retreat

Julia Gensheimer

While the seniors went home, relaxed at the academy, or took the ACT this past weekend, the junior class spent Saturday and half of Sunday at Camp Loucon in Leitchfield, KY, for the annual leadership retreat. At the retreat, students participated in ice breakers, attended staff-led sessions on everything from relationships to self-discovery, and bonded with their classmates during campfires and starry night hikes. It was a great opportunity to get away from schoolwork and have fun.

The first activity involved writing personal qualities on a notecard and taping them up around the room. Juniors said that it was a good opportunity to make connections to others in a more comfortable atmosphere. Girl talks with Beth and April, and guy talks with Pokey made up the next session, all running over the allotted time. The third session introduced the Chair Theory, explaining that the legs of your chair are your core values and the pillows on your chair are your current interests. Students said that this helped them learn more about themselves. The retreat closed out with the famous Relationships 101 talk and a final message about creating a life mission and vision.

The junior class came back to the academy tired, but with plenty of inside jokes and stories to tell. Tidbits of conversations on Sunday night included stories of swimming across the lake, canoeing, pranks, and stargazing. Beth Hawke summarized the retreat well: “The junior leadership retreat accomplished two goals. Students were able to form stronger bonds with each other while also examining their visions, missions, and purposes for not only their Gatton careers but for their next five years.” An inspirational and fun trip made for a great weekend!

0 Comments Short URL


Kelly McKenna

Now that we are in the fourth week of classes, students are busy balancing classes, clubs, homework, socializing, and in some cases, research. Gatton Academy students are encouraged to participate in undergraduate research with professors on campus. Research is a common aspect of Academy life and although 82 percent of the senior class participated in an independent research project last year, research is not mandatory. Some seniors, such as Paul Hudson and Tyler Meeks, decided not to participate in research their junior year. They are starting research this semester along with many juniors.

One way to get involved in research early at the Academy is through the Genome Discovery and Exploration Program. This allows students to jump into research through a guided program that doubles as a class, providing a hands-on biology research experience. Through the Genome Program, students isolate bacteriophages and look for possible uses of them in the medical field. Juniors not involved in the Genome Program have also found research opportunities around campus in a variety of fields, including chemistry, computer science, psychology, mathematics, physics, and biology.

This past summer, many seniors participated in The Gatton Academy Research Internship Grant which allowed them to work on a project with a research mentor. While some students stayed close to home for the summer, students like Andrew Brown and Leeza Khenner traveled quite a way to conduct their research. Brown worked in Los Alamos, New Mexico and Khenner studied in Perm, Russia. The Research Internship Grant prepares students to participate in the Siemens Competition, a prestigious math and science competition for high school students. Almost 20 seniors and one junior are putting the final touches on their reports as they prepare for the September 30th deadline.

Along with entering research into competitions, students may also present their research at regional, state, and national conferences. Dana Biechele-Speziale, Gus Madsen, and Whitney Heard presented their work recently at the 42nd Annual Conference of the North American Thermal Analysis Society in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Other students traveled to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Ashburn, Virginia to present their research this summer.

0 Comments Short URL

What it Takes to Be the Best

Josh Stewart

Recently, the Gatton Academy was named America’s top high school by The Daily Beast for the third year in a row. This astounding accomplishment was made possible by the hard work and commitment of each and every Gatton Academy student and staff member. It is thrilling to receive such a high commendation yet again.

For the students of Gatton, though, national rankings aren’t necessarily our top priority. For us, rankings come less as a goal we set to achieve, but more as a result of each person’s hard work and diligence. Dr. Lynette Breedlove, the Director here at Gatton, says, “It’s a bonus.” For us, this is a reward for the countless hours of studying and research each student participates in. It is a reward for the work and dedication each staff member invests in every student. It is a validation of the excellence we strive for each and every day.

One of the major contributing factors to which we can attribute our success is the outstanding support system we have as students. “It’s important to be student-centered,” says Dr. Breedlove. “The focus is on providing opportunities and support for students. The environment and partnership we have with WKU provides an opportunity for students to thrive and reach their optimal level of challenge. For very talented kids, you need to provide a supportive structure. It is important to maintain a good balance of providing for emotional needs and academic challenge.” We are not only attending college two years early as juniors and seniors in high school, we are doing things such as undergraduate research and studying abroad. Out of the 66 students in the class of 2015, 85% have studied abroad. We have Siemens Competition semi-finalists; we have numerous Goldwater recipients; we have National Merit Scholars. The talent displayed throughout the student body is simply astounding.

And of course, this is also a very prestigious honor. Dr. Breedlove says, “It’s exciting and I’m thrilled for the staff and the students because I think it increases available opportunities.” This ranking helps students in their search for internships, competitive scholarships, and colleges. Our applications stand out because those reviewing the applications know what Gatton Academy students have achieved and are capable of accomplishing. They know that we have what it takes to make Gatton Academy the number one public high school in the United States. It gives us a competitive edge. It is an example of how we can do anything we set our minds to, because how many students can say that they go to the number one high school in America? The answer is 128 of Kentucky’s best and brightest.

0 Comments Short URL

Back in the Saddle: The Classes Resume

Tyler Meeks

Although we had a two-week longer break than our friends and schoolmates back home, it is finally time for the students of the Gatton Academy to return to class. Adventure Week is over, and now everyone is unwrapping their textbooks, finding their classrooms, and printing out their syllabi, eager to both begin and continue their education.

In the beginning, classes seem to be just as easy as they were in high school. The first day consists of meeting the teacher, going over the syllabus, and perhaps covering some new material. But after day one, it’s apparent that classes will be much more challenging than anticipated. The Algebra I that was covered in the first day of Calculus will soon be replaced with learning derivatives, limits, integrals, etc. At times, it can feel overwhelming, and there have been students who were unable to handle the pressure. All it takes to overcome these mixed emotions is a little hard work, perseverance, and utilization of one’s available resources.

Take, for instance, Computer Science I: a required class for all incoming juniors. The first day of CS I is spent talking about what is expected from the students, academic honesty, and a ten-minute introduction to a program called Picobot. When the CS lab was introduced the next day, junior Joshua Ray realized how hard the course might actually be. “At first, it was difficult to understand the concept,” Josh stated. “But once I figured out the structure, everything started to come together. Picobot is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.”

This opinion was shared by many other juniors. “The Java syntax was really confusing,” said junior Luke Miles. “And Picobot was also kind of obscure, but a couple of my senior friends, Cam Hubbard and Brian Carlson, were able to help me figure out how to do everything.”

Academy students have a wealth of resources available to help them succeed. Professors have office hours where they are free to meet with students and answer questions. Mandatory study hours help foster good studying skills and allow students to meet with tutors for some outside help. Students can also rely on each other for assistance. So, as we all get back in the saddle again, remember that working hard from the very beginning, pushing through when it seems impossible, and taking advantage of the resources that are available are key to being a successful Gatton student.

0 Comments Short URL

Gatton Academy Adventure Week: Seniors Return!

Rena Ryumae & Jack Wassom

In the pouring rain, the seniors finally moved into Schneider hall to start off the year. An unlucky few came into the building dripping wet, as they tried to get their belongings up to their rooms. After getting settled in, some meeting their roommates for the first time, we were soon rushed to the 4th floor common area to meet with Beth. At our “re-orientation” meeting, we were saw her renowned naming display as she went around the room and rattled off every student’s first and last name.

Due to the on-and-off rain, many wings decided to order take out food from an assortment of places. Nevertheless, a few students braved the rain and ended up at the Mellow Mushroom where there was an hour plus wait. Their patience and “courage” was well worth it as Mellow was celebrating their 40th anniversary with great food specials. In addition to the great food, there was even a guitar player, who walked around the restaurant, grabbing knifes and using them as guitar slides! The food and entertainment made for a great dinner with new friends.

To end the busy day, students met with their residential counselors for their first official wing meeting. From rules to laughs, we were able to get to know our floor better. For some, this meant the beginning of some great inside jokes and for others it meant the sharing of silly disaster stories. Following the meeting, some of us went on to watch comedy while others went straight to bed. So whether it was late night laughs or bone chilling rain, senior move in day was great!

1 Comments Short URL

Class of 2015 President’s Dinner

By Michael Evans and Paul Hudson

This week the Gatton Academy senior class enjoyed a welcome back dinner at President Ransdell’s house where we were reminded of the unique educational opportunities at Western Kentucky University. The best of Western’s staff were in attendance along with two exemplary students who demonstrated just how beneficial a Hilltopper education could be.

The first student speaker was Will Johnson, a Gatton alumnus. Currently, Will is studying mechanical engineering and conducts applied mathematics research. Specifically, he utilized a photographic quadcopter to explore the sinkhole under Bowling Green’s Corvette museum. Will’s research demonstrated that research can be both practical and purposeful; the quadcopter allowed the sinkhole to be explored from safe distance.

Following Will’s talk, WKU student Sarah Fox shared her experiences of helping disadvantaged youth using music with us. She earned multiple scholarships while at Western Kentucky University and benefited from the supportive learning environment of WKU. Her talk helped drive home the amount of personal attention students receive during their time on the Hill.

Without a doubt, the highlight of the night was the ping pong tournament where Gatton seniors competed against Dr. Claus Ernst for the “Sierpinski” trophy. The trophy will now be handed down to a new ping pong victor each year. This year’s champion was Will Walters who won the tournament after an intense game of “around the world”.

The event ended with a bang with Dr. Ernst and President Ransdell facing each other in a final ping pong battle. Eventually, Dr. Ernst was victorious. Following the event, everyone returned back to the Academy with not only a better understanding of the opportunities offered by Western University, but also the ping pong skills of its faculty.

0 Comments Short URL

Adventure Week: Adjusting to Academy Life

By Lydia Buzzard and Jenna Willett

Every year, students going back to school have to adjust to new classes, new teachers, new classmates, and sometimes new schools. Gatton Academy students are no exception.

After three nights at the Academy, homesickness among the juniors is surprisingly scant. If there are any moments of loneliness, fellow students are never more than one door down, and parents are always a phone call away. Saadia Akhtar said, “When I first came here, I had my doubts and I missed my friends, but it’s been very easy to make new ones because everyone is so nice.” Kindness has quickly become common courtesy among the Juniors. Some of the students, including Rodrigo Daboin-Sanchez, have already formed lasting bonds with their classmates. Rigo, as he is known by his peers, said, “Everyone is like one big family.”

Students have connected over a plethora of activities: capture the flag, board games, conversation circles, and daily meal times. The fourth floor common area has become a hub of social activity providing a firm foundation for friendships among students from all walks of life. Shared interests include music, movies, video games, and literature, all of which have taken on starring roles in student conversations. If ever present smiles and echoing staircases of laughter are any indication, then this year’s Gatton Academy juniors are adjusting splendidly.

0 Comments Short URL