Summer Honors: More than making the grade

Each summer, UNG hosts some 50 high-achieving local high school students who have distinguished themselves among their peers and provides them with a weekend of leadership training, team-building activities and college preparation seminars.

The program is open to students who have completed their junior year, have at least a 3.5 GPA and who have the recommendation of at least one of their teachers; typically, the students who attend the program are within the top 10 to 15 in their respective classes.

Dr. Robb Sinn, mathematics professor and director of the Summer Honors Program at UNG, said professors introduce concepts that, as high school students, many attendees have probably never experienced before, which gives students an opportunity to experience what college academics are really like.

“We get professors to teach our academic units from all over: biology, psychology, sociology, history – we have professors from across the board,” Sinn said.

With a strong research component, students this year participated in environmental science research that used data collected on their climb of Mount Yonah and that they analyzed using technology in UNG’s Geographical Information System lab.

In addition, students participated in the program’s writing program. Prior to attending Summer Honors, registrants receive a copy of the novel “Ender’s Game” to reflect on and write about. The book, which follows a group of young people through an intense military academy, resonates with the students enrolled in the program and helps facilitate discussion about leadership styles.

While professors lead the program’s educational side, counselors lead the students through outdoor and leadership development activities. Counselors like Maria Westerfield, a recent biology and Honors Program graduate, are often heavily involved in the UNG community, and are able to lead by example, not lecture.

“Through the leadership curriculum, students gain such a huge personal growth,” Westerfield said. “Most students come with absolutely no interest in the outdoors or a total mental block against the elements we have them participate on. These are the students that conquer fears and accomplish more than they thought was possible for themselves.”

The program offers several academic and leadership awards at its conclusion, and the Most Outstanding Student Award recipient, who must excel in both areas, receives a $2,500 scholarship to UNG and automatic acceptance into the university’s Honors Program. According to Sinn, about 15 percent of students who enter the Summer Honors Program end up matriculating at UNG.