The Governor’s Scholar Program: “Home Away From Home”

A look at the Governor’s Scholar Program and its 2016 Dunbar scholars

The Governor’s Scholars Program is a five-week summer residential program for outstanding rising seniors throughout Kentucky. The Program was founded in 1983 as a result of Kentucky’s leaders’ concern that the state’s “best and brightest” were leaving the Commonwealth to pursue opportunities beyond high school without being able to fully understand the opportunities and potential they had at home.

Senior Ben Xie and his GSP friends at a Cincinnati Reds baseball game.
Courtesy of Ben Xie
Senior Ben Xie and his GSP friends at a Cincinnati Reds baseball game.

Throughout Kentucky, 1,060 rising seniors were selected through an extensive application process to participate in this experience on three different campuses: Murray State University, Northern Kentucky University and Morehead University.

Out of the 1,060 students, nine students were able to represent Dunbar: Yoon Cho (myself), Annie Griffith, Sarah Han, Ronit Kar, Dennis Mashindi, Nisarg Patil, Ethan Shen, Kamryn Stewart and Ben Xie. We were randomly assigned to the different campuses where we live in a traditional college dorm. Although some may expect it to be more like a college life, in no way was this the case.

The Educational Aspect 

We took three different classes during the five-weeks: focus area, general studies, and seminar.

Everyone’s focus area is based on the top three you select on your application. These classes are nothing like those many high school students are used to. They can range from Cultural Anthropology to International Relations to Forensic Science to Spanish Language and Culture to Physical Science. While the students do stay in a classroom setting, their teachers can organize different field trips and hands-on activities to create an environment where students are exploring different ways to learn new things and create an environment completely unlike a traditional school setting.

Senior Yoon Cho and GSP friends on stage after a swing-dance performance.
Courtesy of Yoon Cho
Senior Yoon Cho and GSP friends on stage after a swing-dance performance.

The general studies courses were classes where students were randomly assigned to different faculty members who would teach whatever they had an expertise in and enjoyed. This was an opportunity for the Scholars to learn something completely new to them.

My general studies class interviewed many different groups such as the university’s international students, members of the African American community, and those living in nursing homes about the topic of race and created a booklet of the different monologues we wrote about these interviews.

Dunbar Scholars were in a variety of general studies. Xie learned about photoshop and media literacy in “Agents of Awesome.” Mashindi focused on learning about the different blue-collar jobs. Griffith explored different cultures through movies, operas, learning to folk dance and much more.

For many of our own PLD Scholars, seminar was one of their favorite aspects of their GSP experience.

I was able to learn more about myself and my peers and by the end we all had a deep connection.

— Senior Ben Xie

“I was able to learn more about myself and my peers and by the end we all had a deep connection. It was a safe place to explore your differences and at the end come back together emotionally,” said Xie.

Seminar was with the same people as your general studies and it was a place to explore different aspects of yourself and your peers.

You would be able to discuss and open up about different issues that may be controversial or things that may not always be comfortable to talk about but everyone was respectful making the experience even more meaningful.

The Scholars also attended weekly Convocations where speakers from all around Kentucky would come to speak to us about a topic of their choice. Many Scholars enjoyed Toru Murden McClure, the president of Spalding University as well as the first woman and American to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean and one of Muhammed Ali’s employees. The purpose of these convocations were to show the potential that the Scholars had and ways that we could go out into our community and improve it. They gave us a new perspective and insight on things that we had never considered.

Senior Annie Griffith and her GSP friend at Murray State University.
Courtesy of Annie Griffith
Senior Annie Griffith and her GSP friend at Murray State University.

The Social Aspect

However, GSP is not only an academically focused environment but also a social environment that promotes community as a very significant aspect of the overall experience. There was plenty of free time where Scholars would meet with the different Scholar-created clubs that they had signed up for. Some very popular clubs included swing dancing club and Murray’s lettuce club, organized by our very own Patil. Scholars could also go to the wellness centers to exercise and socialize, play on the intermural fields and much more.

“I liked how you did not have to be athletic to play and participate in many of the games played. It was a 100% judgement-free zone,” said Griffith.

There were also weekend opportunities known as “Community Days” where students had the chance to explore Kentucky. Some of the opportunities included going to the Cincinnati Zoo, a Cincinnati Reds baseball game, the Kentucky Music Hall of Fam, 5K races and community service opportunities at organizations such as the Humane Society. Each campus also held weekly Showcases where Scholars could showcase their talents and have fun along with a dance every Saturday night.

“I loved being able to wake up in the morning and not know what I was going to do but still know that it’d end up being something really cool,” said Griffith.

It was a 100% judgement-free zone.

— Senior Annie Griffith

When asked if the five weeks were worth it, every Scholar responded with a mixture of definitely‘s and for sure‘s.

Mashindi said, “The first week can feel really hard because you’re not fully connected and you aren’t settled into your home but you get used to it and by week three you don’t want to leave.”

For those of you who are considering applying for GSP this fall, we definitely encourage it despite the long and tedious application because it is all worth it. Some advice that us PLD Scholars came up with were to start early and not to procrastinate on the application, take the ACT ahead of time, put every extracurricular and activity you do or did, and most importantly to be unique and true to your self, especially in the essay.

Faculty Experience 

This year we not only had students represent Dunbar at GSP, we also had a teacher represent Dunbar at Murray State University as a faculty member: Ms. Melanie Timmers!

Seniors Nisarg Patil and Yoon Cho with GSP faculty member and Dunbar teacher Ms. Melanie Timmers at the GSP final banquet.
Courtesy of Melanie Timmers
Seniors Nisarg Patil and Yoon Cho with GSP faculty member and Dunbar teacher Ms. Melanie Timmers at the GSP final banquet.

Ms. Timmers taught the Physical Science focus area and the “Pay it Foreword: The Ripple Effect” general studies class, where the Scholars did a lot of community service activities and studied the academic side of the act of giving and charities. As a faculty member, she was able to bring in expertise and think about ways that would allow Scholars to think differently in certain areas.

Ms. Timmers’ favorite part was the whole experience.

“It is nothing like being in a classroom. It can’t even compare. The freedom, flexibility, and creativity. And while we were encouraging Scholars to think outside the box, we were doing just the same. I really liked the new fresh experience,” said Ms. Timmers.

Timmers is planning to go back next year and teach Physical Science again. For the teachers at Dunbar who are considering applying to be a faculty member in the future, Ms. Timmers strongly recommends it.

“It is a rewarding six weeks and the true dream teaching job. It is an environment where you can try thinks and it is okay if it works and okay if it doesn’t,” said Timmers. “You will always be with a good group of Scholars and you can just see where it takes you.”

To those who are considering applying to GSP, we hope you the best of luck and that you can have the wonderful experience we were able to have. If you have any questions, you can visit the official GSP website or ask any of us who have participated in the program!

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Morehead State University:

Sarah Han – Journalisn and Mass Media

Dennis Mashindi – Psychology and Behavioral Sciences

Murray State University:

Yoon Cho – International Relations

Annie Griffith – Architectural Design

Nisarg Patil – Modes of Mathematical Thinking

Northern Kentucky University:

Ronit Kar – Engineering

Ethan Shen – Forensics

Kamryn Stewart – Political and Legal Issues

Benjamin Xie – Business, Accounting and Entrepreneurship