Westminster students take on the Governor’s Honors Program

Thoughts of summer tug at memories of clear waters and bright sunlight at the beach or lingering in bed until early afternoon. Students who attended the Georgia Governor’s Honors Program (GHP) had their share in relaxing with friends, attending evening concerts, and Pokemon hunting, but six hours a day, they attended classes in everything ranging from Neo-Futurist plays and the prison system to software engineering and the Supreme Court.

Offered at no cost to rising juniors and seniors, GHP is a “summer residential…program [that] offers instruction that is significantly different from the typical high school classroom and that is designed to provide students with academic, cultural, and social enrichment necessary to become the next generation of global critical thinkers, innovators, and leaders” (gosa.georgia.gov). GHP students choose a both a major and a minor for their classes during the four-week program, which was held at Valdosta State University in the summer of 2016 but will move to Berry College in 2017. This past summer, four Westminster students attended GHP.

“I love the idea of the program…you go and are immersed in an area of immediate interest, and I love that they encourage you to take a minor,” said GHP coordinator Reanna Ursin. “That’s great practice for college [and] great practice for life. Don’t focus your interests so much so that you rule out something you’ve never been exposed to before.”

Students take four hours of classes in the morning in their major, and two in the afternoon in their minor, six days a week. Majors include Agricultural Science, Communicative Arts, Dance, Design, Executive Management, German, Latin, French, Spanish, Mathematics, Music, Science, Social Studies, Technology, Theatre, and Visual Arts (valdosta.edu), and minors cover an even greater spectrum of interests.

During the other 18 hours of the day, when students are not involved in their rigorous and innovative curriculum, GHP allows students to bond with others who share similar passions.

“My favorite part [of GHP] was definitely interacting with all the people that I would’ve never had the chance to meet otherwise,” said junior and software engineering major LIly Canfield. “Something that makes GHP very special is that everyone actually cares about what they’re doing…[and] are really talented and devoted to their field.”

Because the program is exceptionally unique and prestigious, a student must partake in an intense series of applications and interviews to earn admission to GHP. Firstly, the prospective GHP student must obtain a letter of recommendation from a teacher in their intended major and turn an application into Dr. Ursin in mid-fall. If the student puts in the effort to piece together the application, they will receive an opportunity for an interview with various Westminster faculty members: deans, grade chairs, and other teachers.

“The seven to eight minute interview is important because…all of our students look great on paper, but how do they translate that into a face-to-face experience?” said Ursin. “Is it clear that [they have] enthusiasm for the subject, that they spend time thinking about the subject outside of…class? Do [they] have enough passion that [they] have extracurricular activities that engage that topic?”

After carefully discussing the performance of each applicant, Dr. Ursin and the interview panel narrow the list down to five Westminster-nominated students, the school limit. Those five students each submit an online application to the state department due in mid-December, which can include essays, portfolios, or recordings, depending on a student’s major. If they are accepted for a statewide interview, Dr. Ursin prepares each student for the next round, the statewide interview, by digging deeper into their interests and conducting a mock interview.

“What I enjoyed the most last year was helping students figure out what they offered that’s unique… moving away from the cliche ‘I’ve always wanted to a scientist’ and ‘I really care and want to give back to the community,’” said Ursin. “It all may be true but doesn’t translate well in an interview when 200 other students may say exactly the same thing.”

The statewide interview is another strenuous process, often requiring a long commute and involving various students all vying for a spot at GHP.

“That [interview] is a lot more stressful,” said senior and communicative arts major Myles Hudson. “I was asked, ‘what do you think would be a good way to improve the current literary world and…that’s a really scary question, [but the process] varies from major to major: social studies majors had a political simulation where you had to be a senator from one of the 50 states and argue…it can go from being a standardized test kind of situation to being really creative and subjective.”

After the interview, prospective students are ushered into a room where they write a timed, proctored essay. Finally, the anxious wait for acceptance results begins.

“When we got the information about which of our nominees were accepted, that was just thrilling,” said Ursin.

Four out of the five Westminster-nominated students attended the program, which is an impressive statistic. What is even more significant is how much they gained from the four-week experience in both knowledge and friendships.

“I’d encourage everybody to apply. Honestly, it was the greatest experience of my life,” said Hudson. “Everybody who goes to GHP always comes back a little bit different…generally for the better. If you get in, make sure to try your hardest to get the most out of it…go to every concert, go to as many seminars as you can, and be sure to hang out with people [instead of] just hanging out in your dorm all the time.”

Next summer, after the government reviewed the numerous schools and colleges interested in hosting the program, GHP will be held at Berry College. A 27,000+ acre campus filled with beautiful woodlands, meadows, and streams, Berry is the largest contiguous campus in the world (berry.edu), and students are highly encouraged to apply.

“Don’t give up or let it intimidate you,” said Canfield. “And if you do get in, it’s really common to think that since you are surrounded by people who are all really amazing at what they do, you don’t deserve to be there, but you are one of [those] brilliant people. Never think you aren’t supposed to be there, because you were chosen for a reason.”