States Opinion

The Governor’s Scholars Program

By Stu Silberman — June 05, 2014 5 min read
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The following is a guest post from Aristofanes Cedeño, Executive Director and Academic Dean of the Governor’s Scholars Program.

When the Governor’s Scholars Program (GSP) opens the doors of three sessions this summer, the Program will have opened a total of 77 sessions on 9 different college settings in 32 summers. As the Program marks this important milestone, it is fitting that we reflect upon all the ways in which the GSP has been making Kentucky’s future brighter since 1983 by emphasizing academic excellence and intellectual discovery, a goal that the GSP shares with the Prichard Committee and the two other Governor’s Schools in Kentucky, the School for the Arts (1987) and the School for Entrepreneurs (2013).

Behind the creation of the Governor’s Schools is the idea of promoting enriching educational programs for the youth of Kentucky and fostering and rewarding excellence and high intellectual and personal achievement throughout Kentucky’s public and private high schools. During the summers, the Programs strive to build a strong base of intellectual, academic, artistic, entrepreneurial, and social experiences within a residential environment that fosters the creation of a community of learners. All participants exchange ideas, develop projects, and use their creative thinking while working with a diverse array of individuals from a variety of backgrounds. When people from different geographic, economic, religious, and ethnic backgrounds are able to respect and learn from one another, they are able to cooperate in creating a better future. As a result, the Governor’s Programs are committed to involving participants from every corner of Kentucky. They serve, in turn, not as a summer oasis, but rather as an irrigation system that spreads the waters of knowledge across our Commonwealth.

In particular, the mission of the Governor’s Scholars Program is to “enhance Kentucky’s next generation of civic and economic leaders,” a goal that it reaches by providing models of educational excellence. The philosophy underlying GSP’s mission is predicated upon the fact that bright minds generate bright ideas. To succeed in the GSP’s highly competitive selection process, a student must excel both inside and outside the classroom, demonstrating the commitment to intellectual growth, community service, and effective leadership that characterize our State’s future leaders. For the last five years, the GSP has been proud to include scholars representing all 120 Kentucky counties. Together, they create a community that emphasizes the value of learning without the pressure of grades or tests. Instead, the threefold curriculum -which includes a focus area, a general studies class, and a discussion-based seminar-- is designed to illuminate the connections between seemingly unrelated subjects and to ignite scholars’ interest in new or different fields of study. For our high achievers, the GSP provides a safe place to take intellectual risks under the guidance of passionate, highly-skilled faculty members, residential staff, and administrators. As a result, 93% of the 2013 Governor’s Scholars reported that they had “meaningful” classroom experiences at GSP and that GSP “challenged them to think in new ways and to do new things.”

Bright ideas are followed by bright opportunities. Colleges and universities in Kentucky offer generous scholarships to GSP alumni. In effect, 85.1% of the 2011 scholars chose to pursue higher education in the Commonwealth. Whether they attended college within or outside Kentucky, those students accepted an average of $68,782 each in four-year scholarships. In fact, the students who have completed the GSP since 2004 have provided their scholarship information; together, they have accepted an astounding $303,658,672 in merit-based funding. Just imagine what that total must be for all the scholars in the Program’s 31-year history!

Today, the Governor’s Scholars Program boasts more than 25,000 alumni. Approximately 77% of them live right here in the Commonwealth, but whether they reside around the corner or around the world, they are doing great things. They are educators, entrepreneurs, and artists; Olympic athletes and Congressmen. Through their service and their leadership, they serve as beacons whose impact radiates within and beyond their communities. For 31 years, the Governor’s Scholars Program has been nurturing Kentucky’s best and brightest students in order to make our Commonwealth even better and brighter. The 32 nd summer will continue igniting the extraordinary potential of our future leaders.

In 1983, Kentucky’s leaders in education, including the Prichard Committee’s founding Executive Director, Bob Sexton, joined then Governor John Y. Brown and other community leaders to realize the utopian dream of creating a summer program for high-achieving rising high school seniors. Since then, the GSP has expanded from 250 to 1,050 students. Recently, the Office of the Governor and visionary legislators approved yet another expansion to reach the 1,100 mark in 2014. “Given participant numbers and disparate activities,” says Thomas Preston in a recent editorial about Governor’s Scholars, “the commonwealth again forges ahead.” As the GSP has grown, its core values remain the same. While we still pay tribute to our founder’s utopian ideal, we are also cognizant that extraordinary intellect is most valuable in its capacity to effect positive change. Therefore, we place great emphasis on preparing students for roles of leadership that will allow them to directly and beneficially impact their communities.

When the Governor’s Scholars Program opens its three sessions in the summer of 2014, it will welcome our next generation of leaders representing all areas of Kentucky: Eastern (23%), Western (23%), Northern (12.1%), Central (25.3%), and Jefferson County (17%). In looking to the future, some experiences in life are truly transformational. The Governor’s Scholars initiative is an example of such experiences that change participants’ lives. Whether in the arts, business, or civic and economic matters, the mission and goals of the Program address the future of the Commonwealth. In so doing, we seek to honor our past and to adhere to the educational legacy of academic excellence that we inherited from the visionary leaders who created the Governor’s Scholars Program.

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