Reflections on a Day Well Spent

This past weekend, I had the privilege of supporting the Georgia Governor’s Honors Program (GHP) (Governor's Honors Program | The Governor's Office of Student Achievement (georgia.gov), a residential summer program for gifted and talented high school students who will be rising juniors and seniors during the program. I served as an interviewer in the Engineering Division and focused on those students in the Computer Programming competition.

During the training session I attended on Friday evening the students were described as “standard school’s gifted population on steroids” and that certainly proved to be an accurate description of the 12 students that I was honored to meet during Saturday’s interviews. The creative thinking and originality of the portfolio’s we viewed was inspiring and even more amazing when you consider these were sophomore and junior high school students coming from diverse backgrounds and schools that ranged significantly in terms of the resources available to the students.

The number of young women in the competition was especially encouraging, as were the stories they told when we asked them what, or who, inspired them to pursue a computer sciences curriculum. Also revealing was how well they understood the challenges they would face pursuing careers in fields currently dominated by males. We heard stories about being in advanced placement classes where they would be one of two or perhaps three women in a group of 25 students. And we heard about dreams of becoming a computational biologist, a human factor engineer, a biochemist, a physicist, and a microbiologist. We also heard about wanting to be the first person in her family to attend college and the struggles pursuing her dream when her school did not have the resources that she needed to advance at the same level as her peers in resource rich environments, but undeterred, she had enrolled in several on-line advanced placement courses and was going to get there, one way or another.

The resource issue surfaced frequently, not just in the group of students our team interviewed, but across all the teams as we shared stories about our experiences during the wrap-up session at the end of the day. It is a harsh reality that in our state, as in many states across our nation, gifted children are often unable to pursue their dreams because the schools they attend cannot afford the resources, be they teachers, facilities, equipment, etc. And sadly, only 22% of the all the students interviewed in the computer programming group would be offered placements in the GHP summer program, which “is designed to provide students with academic, cultural, and social enrichment necessary to become the next generation of global critical thinkers, innovators, and leaders.”

On a personal note, I cannot remember having a more enriching experience. I drove home on Saturday evening filled with the joy of having met so many amazing young men and women, knowing that these students will become the next generation of leaders in engineering, computer sciences, healthcare, cybersecurity, and multiple other disciplines as there were nearly 1400 students seeking placement in other fields including dance, music, art, etc.

Finally, I felt the sadness those students not selected would experience, even though in my heart, I knew that not all of them were a good fit for the program. Still, I wondered why we can’t provide other less intense programs for those students that would still allow them to have a summer experience that would enrich their lives and help them advance to the next level.

As a nation, we must do better at ensuring all our children have access to the resources they need to realize their dreams, whether they live in a rural community in West Virginia or in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Ro Khanna, a member of congress representing Silicon Valley, recently published a book entitled “ Dignity in a Digital Age – Making Tech Work For All Of Us”. Dignity in a Digital Age: Making Tech Work for All of Us @ Amazon.com.

One of my favorite quotes from the book is that “A key pillar of building a multiracial, multireligious democracy is providing every person in every place with the prospect of a dignified life, including the potential to contribute in and shape the digital age.” And as the Congressman points out, one of key lessons of the past two years is that place no longer matters and that by enriching the resources available to children across the nation, we could revitalize rural communities and allow those communities to share in the digital economy while retaining their community identities. Now that is conversation, I would love to see us have as a nation!

Patrick Gaul