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


Alumni Spotlight: Wayne Schmitt (Class of 2013, Montgomery County)

Can you describe your experience at the Gatton Academy?
That is kind of difficult to put into words because there are so many things about Gatton that are almost indescribable. I was challenged in ways that I had never been before. I was able to do research and have an early look at what college might be like. However, I think most of all, it provided such an incredible and open community, one necessary for the thriving of gifted students from across the state. We were able to look at each other’s accomplishments and struggles and see that we were all in this together. We were there for each other, during the good and the bad. These two years were created from the group effort of over 120 students and staff members. I made so many great friends, many of whom I miss so much. Given the opportunity, I would give them a place to stay here in Philadelphia in a heartbeat. If I had to go back, I would definitely do it again.

How have your experiences at the Gatton Academy helped you in your adult life?
Although I can say that my experiences here at the University of Pennsylvania have been much different and more challenging than at Gatton, I definitely can say that it gave me a good foundation for higher education. Gatton also gave me many opportunities to show how involved I was in and out of the classroom. It also was an opportunity to live and work with a more diverse population of students. Everyone from Gatton came from a different background, and Gatton provided us with a safe place to express our ideas and opinions. Also, I think that the Gatton Academy allowed me to be more fully responsible for myself; no longer were my parents telling me to clean my room or wake up in the morning. This definitely prepared me for the all the self-responsibility I now have in college.

Since the Academy what have you been up to?
I have been studying at the University of Pennsylvania, trying to balance school with my work study and extracurricular organizations. I hope to get involved in ecology research in next fall. Before classes started, I took part in an amazing pre-orientation program called PennGreen where I learned a lot about sustainability practices and environmental health, while also making new friends in the process. With clubs and extracurricular activities, I am involved in the Freshmen Fuerza, a Latino cultural group for freshmen, Penn Environmental Group, and some of the LGBT groups on campus.

What do you aspire to achieve in the next ten years?
I hope to go to grad school for biology and to become a research biologist/ecologist. I want the work that I do to have a positive impact on the conservation of animals, ecosystems, and the environment as a whole. On the side, I hope to have made at least a few short films along the way to show my love of film and filmmaking. I have no specific plan in mind, but of course there is still plenty of time for that.

What was your favorite memory from your time at the Gatton Academy?
There are so many great memories from Gatton, it is so difficult to pick just one. I definitely enjoyed the 4+ hour one-on-ones with my RC talking about everything from religion and philosophy to “Why does Avril Lavigne sing Radiohead at the top of her lungs?” There were definitely the beautiful days, sitting out on the Colonnade steps, and eating “Pizza Tacos” (i.e. Pizza from DaVinci’s + 2 Tacos from Izzi’s made into a delicious sandwich). However, some of my favorite memories were formed during the week before classes started my senior year. Being able to spend time with the other community developers and Avatars was such a wonderful experience without the stress from classes.

We would like to thank Wayne for taking time out of his busy schedule to be interviewed.

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Class of 2016 STEM + Application

STEM+Critical Languages Application

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Gatton Academy Class of 2014 College Interest Survey

Gatton Academy College Alumni Interview Survey

As part of your alumni interview assignment, you will need to complete the following survey. Mallory and Chad will match you with a Gatton Academy alumnus based on your interest in universities and academic major.
  • University/College List

    In the following boxes, please list 5 universities/colleges that you might attend your undergraduate studies.
  • Academic Major

    In the following boxes, please list 3 academic majors that you might pursue after graduating from the Gatton Academy.
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Gatton Academy Student Develops and Releases his First Commercial App

Gatton Academy senior Ethan Gill of Bowling Green has developed and released his first commercial application for iOS devices.

Gill developed his HueHueHue app out of personal necessity. “I own Philips Hue lights which are supposed to make your life easier,” he said. Hue lights are a wireless lighting system for the home that can be remotely controlled by a smart device to turn on or off and to emit various colors and shades. Gill continued, “However, having to unlock my phone and wait for an app to load ended up being slower than just turning off a light switch.”

His HueHueHue app resolves this “simple” issue allowing the user to toggle Hue lights with a simple action on an iPhone or iPad. Once configured, the app can even run when the screen is locked, simplifying the process and saving the user time.

Western Kentucky University’s winter and summer terms provide Gatton Academy students additional time needed to explore and develop their unique passions. During the 2013 summer term, Gill was awarded the Gatton Academy Research Internship allowing him to conduct computer science research under the direction of Dr. James Gary, Associate Professor of Computer Science and Department Head.

Currently, Gill is developing apps and attending national programming competitions during Western Kentucky University’s winter term as part of his Gatton Academy winter term learning project.

“Gatton Academy students undertake a range of activities during winter term. From classes to study abroad to community service to job shadowing, we ensure that every Academy student is active in their learning during the university’s three-week intersession,” said Derick Strode, Assistant Director of Academic Services at the Gatton Academy. “Ethan’s pursuits in programming are an exact model of how students are using winter term to creatively advance their learning, research, and career goals.”

Gill’s application for compatible iOS devices is avaliable on Cydia at

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What Dreams Are Made Of

Samantha Dinga

Italy 2014: Take 1 – My personal Italy experience didn’t go exactly as expected. On New Year’s Day, I met the Gatton group at the Nashville airport bright and early only to find that my passport had expired one month before our departure date. That put a bit of a damper on things. So I sent my friends off with hugs and promises that I’d meet them there, and waited for my mother to come and take me to Atlanta’s regional Passport offices. After three days of scrambling and watching as tons of beautiful pictures were posted, with the help of my lovely mother, I finally had a shiny new passport in my hands.

Italy 2014: Take 2, City 1 – After long flights from Atlanta to Paris and finally to Venice, I finally met Tim in Venice’s airport, and we took a train (sadly no Venetian canals for me) to meet our group in Florence. I was met at the hotel at around 9 pm by a group of my friends, with hugs, and a lot of complaining that I had to unpack quickly because they had waited to eat dinner for me. We walked outside to see Florence still lit up for the Christmas season, passing the beautiful and massive il Duomo just a few blocks from our hotel. We spent the next few days seeing beautiful sculptures such as the statue of David, being toured around Dante’s hometown, singing together in cathedrals with wonderful acoustics, and posing like the tourists we were in front of Pisa.

Italy 2014: Take 2, City 3 – We bussed from Venice to Rome, and proceeded to all become Lizzie Maguire, frolicking around Rome knowing that this is in fact what dreams are made of. We found what we consider to be the best gelato in all of Italy, and ate what was probably the best meal of my life in a small hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Seriously, I don’t know what was in the lasagna, but it was probably magic. We spent our time in Rome going through all of the major destinations, such as the Coliseum, which had a habit of popping out of nowhere as we bussed from tour to tour despite its size. We saw the Trevi Fountain (which was even more than Lizzie Maguire made me believe), visited the ruins of Pompeii, and went down to the Vatican City and the Sistine Chapel, where some of us even got to return and be blessed by Pope Francis himself!

Italy 2014: A Summation – There is no question about why the world raves about the magnificent art in Italy. Even the hallways and ceilings were breathtaking, not to mention the exhibits themselves. The food is worth every hour we flew, and I am convinced that I will be disappointed at every meal I eat for the next few weeks as a result. Outside of all of our touring, I met a lot of great people as I travelled. Though I’ve lived with everyone on the trip for (at least) a semester, I believe that I’ve forged friendships that are tied forever by the bonds that only 10 Euro gelato, Tim Talks about our dreams themselves, storytelling during Mafia card games, countless rounds of our favorite Spaghetti-Western card game “Bang!”, and dozens of verses of “the ants go marching…” can create. Italy was beautiful, as are all of the great people I had the privilege to travel with. This was in fact what dreams are made of.

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Gatton Academy Students Present at National Astronomy Conference

A current Gatton Academy student and recent alumna presented their research findings on Thursday, January 9 at the 223rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Washington, D.C.

James “Marcus” Hughes of Marion, a current senior, and Mary Spraggs of Danville, a 2013 Gatton Academy graduate and current WKU student, both presented posters. Their research is mentored by Dr. Steven Gibson, Assistant Professor in the WKU Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Marcus Hughes presents his findings at the AAS Conference

Marcus and Mary have done cutting-edge work deserving of a national forum,” Gibson said. “The AAS conference is a great opportunity for them to communicate their results, get important feedback from other researchers in the field, and see how the wider professional community functions.”

Hughes’ poster was titled A Survey of Hidden Molecular Clouds in the Milky Way, and Spraggs’ was A Multi-wavelength Analysis of Cold Evolving Interstellar Clouds. While both students have presented their findings multiple times previously, this was their first time presenting at a national conference.

Mary Spraggs presents her findings at the AAS Conference

Gibson said that senior colleagues approached him at the meeting to say how impressed they were with the students’ presentations.

Writing from the conference, Spraggs commented, “We’ve been to talks not only about breakthrough science, but policy, demographics, career preparation, networking, software development, and education. It’s really given us a new view of the culture in the field and the current issues and topics of discussion.”

Spraggs added that she had had numerous talks about graduate programs and graduate research opportunities at the conference.

The conference was attended by over 3,000 astronomers, educators, journalists, and guests. Keynote speakers included Edwin C. Krupp and Neil deGrasse Tyson.
In addition to Dr. Gibson, Hughes, and Spraggs, the WKU delegation also included student Joshua Williams of Bowling Green and Drs. Michael Carini, Richard Gelderman, Ting-Hui Lee, and Charles McGruder, all faculty in the WKU Department of Physics and Astronomy.

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Class of 2013 Survey

Class of 2013 Update

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Gatton Student Attends HackMIT

Ethan Gill

This past weekend I attended HackMIT, a large undergraduate programming contest held on the campus of MIT. During the 24-hour competition, I programmed around the clock creating a set of apps. The app I developed went on to the win the Mopub-sponsored mobile data award. I was one of 30 teams to win a prize out of over 275 submissions; I am honored and ecstatic that I won. I would not have been knowledgeable enough to attend if not for the experience I have obtained while at the Gatton Academy, and I am grateful for everything the Gatton staff has done to assist me this past year.

During the competition, I developed two iOS apps and set up a server in one day. My final product consisted of BeaconBroadcaster and BeaconViewer, apps that use Bluetooth 4.0 on iPhones and iPads to dynamically ‘beam’ content in one direction with the help of a server. The broadcasting device does not need to be an iPhone. In fact, inexpensive Bluetooth beacons can be purchased online. The applications for this idea are endless. For example, a college campus could put a beacon into their campus maps, allowing real-time “you are here” maps to be pushed to visitors’ devices. Or, a museum could use beacons for their exhibits, pushing extra information to visitors.

To demonstrate my apps to judging, I used three iPhones. Two broadcasted and one received beacons. My viewer app finds the nearest beacon by signal strength and displays it, so I moved the viewer back and forth between the other two phones, demonstrating how the information instantly switched onscreen. In addition, I changed the value of a beacon on my server, and the value on the viewing device updated instantly.

I can honestly say that HackMIT was one of the most invigorating and informative weekends of my life so far. I was able to meet countless tech startups and major tech firms like Dropbox, Bloomberg, Twitter, and Pebble. I highly encourage interested programmers to apply to hackathons and conferences; they might have their lives changed.

My submission information can be found at this link:

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Avatar Story: Becoming a Community

Gretchen Walch

At the end of my junior year I recall the excitement our class had about meeting, befriending, and mentoring the in-coming juniors, class of 2015. We called them “our juniors” and in the words of senior Samantha Dinga, we wanted “to be their seniors!” It is safe to say that nearly all of the seniors wanted to be community leaders and the competition for these official positions was tight. To our excitement, now that everyone is moved in the seniors have 72 new friends—the juniors.

Any day of the week someone sitting on the fourth floor common area of the Gatton Academy can hear the voices rising from third floor commons. During the morning and afternoon there might be questions to seniors about CS homework or the tip tap of the keyboard writing a lab report. Throughout the evening it is full of laughter and the joined voices of juniors and seniors, discussing their favorite actors, meeting about yearbook, anime, or chatting about some of the professors we enjoy or the “nerdy” topics we “fan-girl over.”

Today I went on third floor and asked the juniors and seniors there what they thought about the relationship between the classes. Good news: the consensus is that we like each other.

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There and Back Again: An Arabic Tale

Grace Babbs

While at the Gatton Academy, one never quite knows where he or she will end up. For seven weeks this summer, I found myself living in the awe-inspiring city of Amman, Jordan through an opportunity spotlighted by the Academy. The National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) is a scholarship through the US Department of State to instruct students in critical languages through complete immersion. The experience serves to teach linguistic skills, cultural awareness and to promote international dialogue.

The immersive language experience is unlike any other language program. When I arrived in-country, I could say nothing more than, “Hello, my name is Grace,” and count to ten. Over the course of the summer, I developed situational language skills organically, rather than in the classroom setting. Instead of sitting at my desk hunched over textbook learning vocabulary, I learned the language by haggling over prices with shopkeepers, giving taxi drivers directions back to my apartment, and writing down my host mom’s recipes to share with my family when I returned home.

In addition to our real-world language experience, we spent four hours a day in the classroom studying the nuances of the Arabic language. We were taught by native scholars. On weekends, we took excursions to the surrounding countryside to study Arab history and culture and appreciate the country’s natural beauty. We floated in the Dead Sea, rode camels, ran down sand dunes, and saw renowned archaeological sites.

However, the most rewarding aspects by far were the interactions I had with Jordanian locals, especially my host family. The Jordanians with whom I came into contact were the most hospitable and generous individuals I have ever met. For instance, one night I was invited to iftar (the breaking of Ramadan fast) with a friend’s host family. My friend explained to me the relations of the twenty-four of the twenty-five people with whom we were eating. She was unsure of the last man’s relationships to the rest of the family. When she asked her host mother the relationship, she quickly replied, “We met him yesterday. He is our new best friend. He stayed here eight hours yesterday, and he will stay for as long today.”

I have honestly been forever changed by my trip to Jordan with NSLI-Y. In addition to greatly advancing in my Arabic studies, I have begun to truly think globally. The Middle East is no longer a distant and seemingly-violent place in my mind. It has become a second home, a beautiful landscape with even more beautiful people. I am grateful to Derick Strode and Dr. Melinda Grimsley-Smith for their assistance and support throughout the application process and to the US State Department and American Councils for their sponsorship. Because of the seed planted by Gatton, this Kentucky girl has grown into a global student ambassador.

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