The Gatton Academy Brings Young Stem Enthusiasts to Bowling Green.

by | Mar 2024

YOUNG SCIENTISTS and mathematicians are often driven to learn and ready for class material far above their peers. To challenge themselves and prepare for post-secondary education, they can take dual credit or Advanced Placement classes, but they are often limited by what is available at their school or in their region. Fortunately, Bowling Green is home to a residential program that may be the answer for those who are itching to do more.

The Carol Martin Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science is a two-year residential program for high school juniors and seniors. Based at Western Kentucky University, the program allows young STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) enthusiasts a chance to advance their education alongside like-minded individuals. Assistant Director Kari Lynn Somers said that this opportunity exists because of the work of legislatures and citizens from across the state of Kentucky.

“It’s been a long time standing,” Somers said. “Dr. Julia Roberts worked with a team of folks who were passionate about making sure that Kentucky’s brightest students had opportunities to accelerate their learning and find challenge in the classroom.”

Since its establishment in 2007, The Gatton Academy has graduated 16 classes and over 1,000 students. Students can take between 60 and 72 credit hours in their two years of attendance, study abroad in England or Costa Rica, and conduct faculty-mentored research. 

“Gatton students’ research experiences often lead to them presenting at professional conferences, which can be at the local, state, national, or international level,” Somers said. “Some of our students’ research has even been published with their names listed alongside their faculty mentors.”

The most significant benefit, however, is the community formed by the students. Somers said many are known as “the smart kids” at their local schools, and Gatton offers somewhere they don’t feel so out of place. Students who may be quiet and keep their heads down in their home communities are able to find out who they are.

“It’s phenomenal to see Gatton students get to be everything they want to be and not only be the ‘smart kid,’” Somers said. “They get to meet other people who think like them, want to solve problems, and have similar interests. They really encourage each other and come out of their shells.”

While such an experience would generally cost quite a bit, thanks to funding from the Kentucky Legislature, tuition and room and board are offered at no cost. Other scholarships are also available for incidental living expenses, meaning any Kentucky resident can apply without concern for cost. However, there is only room for about 95 students per class, so getting accepted is an achievement.

“Students have to apply during their sophomore year in high school and have to have completed Algebra I, geometry, and Algebra 2 by the end of that year. This will most likely be students who had access to Algebra 1 in eighth grade,” Somers said. “We have a minimum required ACT score of 22 on the math section; that’s a 540 on the SAT.”

The application process itself is meant to allow staff to get to know students in a well-rounded way. Students need to have a passion for STEM and the maturity to succeed in a residential program.

Getting accepted does not mean giving up the chance to graduate with neighbors and friends. Gatton students remain enrolled in their home high schools and can walk across the stage with their peers when the time comes.

“You kind of get the best of both worlds,” Somers said. “You’re going to get this prestigious diploma from The Gatton Academy, but you have that connection to your hometown.”

Still, sending a high schooler to a residential program can be daunting. For that reason, interested parents are encouraged to visit the academy in person, talk to parents of currently enrolled students, and see what the school has to offer.

“We have opportunities throughout the year for families to be able to come visit us,” Somers said. “Those preview days are a great opportunity to really be able to see whether or not this is something that your child wants or you as a student want to pursue. But I always tell people, ‘Just go for it. Apply and go through the process and see.’

As the saying goes, “You miss 100 % of the shots you don’t take.” GN 

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