Exactly 100 of Tennessee’s top high school students are spending part of their summer on campus as part of the annual Governor’s Schools for the Sciences and Engineering.
“Participation in the Governor’s Schools offers some of the brightest students in the state the opportunity to broaden their exposure to science, engineering, and mathematics in a college setting,” said Ted Labotka, director of the Governor’s Schools and professor of earth and planetary sciences. “They get to spend four weeks here and take part in classes and special lectures on current research topics ranging from the ‘theory of everything’ to the spacecraft exploration of the asteroid Vesta.”
The concept was proposed by then-governor Lamar Alexander in 1984 as a venue to serve the state’s top high school students, with the Governor’s School for the Sciences being held at UT from the start. The Governor’s School for Engineering began as the Governor’s School for Manufacturing Engineering in 1996.
“It’s rewarding for our faculty to work with these very capable Tennessee students,” said College of Arts and Sciences Dean Theresa Lee. “There is no better way to interest and encourage students in STEM disciplines than to afford them opportunities to interact with our world-class faculty who are passionate about their research, teaching, and mentoring of the next generation of scientists.”
In 2007, the schools merged, which brought together the College of Engineering and College of Arts and Sciences as co-sponsors.
“Being involved in Governor’s School programs is a chance for us to have some of the top students in Tennessee come to our campus and see what we can offer,” said College of Engineering Dean Wayne Davis. “For a lot of these kids, it’s their first time to be in Knoxville, or in East Tennessee, let alone here at UT, so it’s vital for us to show them what a rewarding experience coming here can be.”
Regardless of whether they have come to UT for the science portion or the engineering portion, students are housed together, attend social events together—basically do all of the things they would experience if they enrolled as a college student.
As for the time spent in class, on the engineering side students are being introduced to everything from superconductors and data acquisition to biomaterials and ion beams. They spend their mornings learning the fundamentals of engineering, and the afternoon learning specific concepts.
“The key is to find the mix of introducing students to new things without overwhelming them,” said Chris Wetteland, a lecturer in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering who helps lead portions of the sessions. “We take it week by week instead of changing it every day, and we pair lectures with lab work to make sure things stick.
“Hearing about something and then immediately working on it really cements a concept.”
For students in the science portion of the camp, the mornings are filled with learning about the history, nature, and building blocks of science, as well as study of the scientific method.
Courses are offered in biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics, with all of the students taking the fundamental courses in the morning before splitting off into whichever of those electives they’ve chosen for the afternoon sessions.
Evenings are a mix of entertainment and education over the monthlong course, featuring activities such as ice cream parties, bowling, and visits to the campus planetarium.
Labotka said the students’ experience is overwhelmingly positive and enduring.
“Students really love the program,” said Labotka. “In fact, many Governor’s Schools alumni return to enroll at UT as undergraduates and often reconnect with the Governor’s Schools by serving as resident assistants and teaching assistants.”
The schools run through June 29.
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