Clayton high school students sample college life

By Greg Gelpi

Mixing with some of the state's brightest high school students, 21 from Clayton County got a taste of college life.

The students participated in six weeks of hands-on learning during the Governor's Honors Program at Valdosta State University.

"We did work, but we did work we wanted to do," said John Fleming, a Lovejoy High School senior.

During the stint, students attended 36 hours of instruction each week and concentrated in a major and minor area of study. Students were nominated and chosen to participate in one of 16 subject areas. Fleming was selected to participate in the math program.

"There were a lot of people there who were better at math than I was, which made me want to do better," Fleming, who hopes to study physics at Georgia Tech, said.

The Governor's Honors Program is the "longest running program of its kind in the world," said Joe Searle, the director of the program. By bringing these students together, they can interact with students of similar high academic ability.

Searle, who participated in the program as a student in 1968, said the program is about empowering the state's honors student to be "life-long learners."

"It was a wonderful experience," said Nguyen Vu, a Mount Zion High School junior. "I got to meet people and learn about college life."

With the freedom of the college campus and dorm setting, Vu said she can't wait to go to college.

Vu, who wants to be a pediatrician, said she worked with mold slime, worms and a pet snake during the program.

"It was like a sponge for me," Searle said, recalling his own experience. He added that it made college a "breeze."

Although the instructors are there for the students, the instructors give them freedom as they would have in college, and they live in dorms during the six weeks, Searle said. They have opportunities to interact with other students of such high caliber as themselves and engage in activities as exotic as reaching inside the stomach of a cow.

"I don't think there are many classrooms in the state where you get to do that," he said. "Many following the six weeks say this is like going to college."

In the past 41 year, the program has had 26,000 students, Searle said. This year, 2,500 students vied for 675 spots in the program.

"What's exciting about these kids is that they are the exception in Clayton County, but they are the rule when they get down there," he said.

Other Clayton County students selected for the Governor's Honors Program were Rachel Holmes, Andrew McKibbin, Brooke Arrington, Laura McMillan, Lyndsey Phillips, Brittany Camp, Ngoc Tran, Seth Anderson, Marcus Potts, Jeremy McGee, Omar Khan, Quynh-Chau Ha, Eden Carlton, Sholandan Hollingshed, Jamaal Parham, Ha Le, Jonathan Saethang, Harsh Patel and Brandon Norman.