Mississippi Governor's School student Julia Hanson, 15, paddles her team's boat as Grayson Easterling, 16, falls overboard behind her in the pool at Stark Recreation Center on the Mississippi University for Women campus Saturday afternoon. Julia is the daughter of Laura Hanson of Gulfport. Grayson's parents are Thomas and Michelle Easterling of West Point. Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff
Mississippi Governor's School students Cole Frank, 17, and Eli Box, 16, dedicate their Saturday of Service to removing lids of buckets to be rinsed and filled with clean drinking water at Operation Ukraine in Columbus. Cole is the son of Andi and Andrew Frank of Kosciusko. Eli is the son of Mark and Jenny Box of Columbus.
Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff
Mississippi Governor's School students Anna Grace Robinson, 15, Hamilton Wan, 15, and Chen Lan, 17, work together to build a boat at Mississippi University for Women's Stark Recreation Center on Saturday. Anna Grace is the daughter of Tracy and Tim Robinson of Southaven. Hamilton is the son of Xiufeng Wan and Liping Long of Starkville. Chen is the daughter of Erliang Lan and Chuying Zhang of Hattiesburg.
Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff
June 19, 2017 10:07:56 AM
Some of Mississippi's most gifted high school students threw cardboard rafts in a pool on Saturday and tried to race them.
The seemingly futile attempt to ride in a cardboard boat is just one of many unconventional activities and courses 74 students from across the state are participating in at Mississippi Governor's School this month.
MGS is a residential honors program for rising high school juniors and seniors. The program, hosted by Mississippi University for Women, was established in 1981 by the university and Gov. William Winter. It receives funding from the state and MUW.
"Of course, we want it to be free so the population that comes truly represents the state of Mississippi and isn't only for those who can afford it," said MGS director Royal Toy.
Students moved into MUW dorms June 4 to begin their three-week journey of taking college-level classes and participating in leadership activities, academic discovery and fun.
Students return to give back
Each year, former scholars return to the summer institute for various reasons -- to teach courses, serve as a resident assistants or administrate. Like those involved before them, returning scholars continue a primary MGS goal of investing in Mississippi's future.
"I think one of the things (summer programs like governor's school) do a good job of is catering to the needs of gifted students in Mississippi," said Heath Stevens, a 1999 MGS scholar who has worked with the program ever since.
Stevens said MGS offered the first real intellectual stimulation he received in high school, as his school in Marshall County did not have a gifted program or many advanced classes.
Stevens, a Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science counselor, now teaches two courses to MGS scholars, both of which reflect his educational background in biology, psychology and mental health counseling. He wants to challenge MGS scholars and expose them to the "in-depth critical thinking" he experienced.
Planning a portfolio
When Emily Liner, a 2003 MGS alumna and current economic policy adviser for Washington, D.C. based think tank Third Way, discovered she had an opportunity to give back to Mississippi through governor's school, she and her beagle Scarlet packed their things and rented an apartment in Starkville. Liner took a break from her job to teach "Entrepreneurship and Economics for Everyone" to 15 scholars this year.
While investing in her home state's future, Liner is teaching her scholars investing basics to plan for the future.
"We've talked about how to increase return and how to have a balanced portfolio," Liner said. When her students' portfolios mature, she tells them, "you'll be in a better position because you planned ahead.
"Mississippi Governor's School is a way for the state to plan ahead, to make sure each coming generation has the most opportunities possible to become successful," she added.
Not your average classes
A passion for learning is something Liner said all MGS scholars share.
Liner's students include "cheerleaders and athletes," "book worms," "computer nerds" and future doctors and small business owners.
"They're from all over the state, but the thing that binds them all together is that they are thirsty for knowledge," she said.
MGS's 2017 session offers five major courses and five interest area courses, taught by seven instructors. Of those seven instructors, more than half first attended governor's school as scholars.
Liner, a Bay St. Louis native, attended governor's school before her senior year of high school at MSMS. Fourteen years later, she still remembers the course she took on media coverage of the civil rights movement.
"I was so happy to have found a place where we could have serious discussions about controversial topics in an environment where you could express yourself and where the adults who were there wanted to help you learn to communicate and learn to make sense of the world around you," Liner said.
She worked with the program and pulled from her experience in entrepreneurship, economics and finance to create a major course covering topics she wished she had learned before business school. Liner said MGS courses are meant to challenge and engage exceptional students across the state in a way many of their typical high school classes cannot.
"They want you to come up with something completely original," Liner said of the courses.
"Governor's school is very proud of the fact that the classes scholars take are outside of the box."
Stevens and Liner try to stress to their students the importance of using their intellectual gifts to give back to their home state.
"It's not just about the classes," Stevens said. "And one of the things that is emphasized is not that you even have to go to a Mississippi college but come back and give back to the state that has given you something."
Liner said she and other instructors try to make being a Mississippi citizen part of the curriculum.
She even asked her students to research notable business based in the state and plans to use a class session to have students pitch why businesses should invest in Mississippi.
"One thing I want our scholars to think about as they get older," Liner said, "is what it means to represent their communities, because they may end up doing it quite frequently."
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