Bellarmine University is hosting about 100 rising high school seniors on campus for the 38th annual Kentucky Governor’s Scholars Program.
The program was reduced from five weeks to four 1-week sessions this year and features a mix of virtual learning experiences, smaller class sizes and other measures necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
University leaders say GSP is a bellwether for how the campus will function with new COVID-19 requirements in the fall.
"The ease with which the Governor's Scholars have adapted to COVID-19 protocols gives us great confidence for the fall semester," said Helen-Grace Ryan, Bellarmine Vice President of Student Affairs.
GSP scholars said requirements such as wearing masks and social distancing could sometimes be difficult, but ultimately, the experience was well worth it.
“I was so grateful I got the opportunity to go for even one week,” said Grace Welte from Morehead, Ky. “Doing it in this modified version was definitely challenging. But I think maybe it allowed the scholars this year to grow in ways
past scholars haven’t been able to.”
For example, it was tough not to hug new friends as they said goodbye, Grace said.
“But we had still built very strong connections, even if we weren’t able to physically touch each other,” she said. “We had very strong relationships, and I think that’s more important than any physical boundaries.”
Bellarmine, which previously hosted the program from 2004 to 2015, is one of several host campuses this summer and next.
A statewide selection committee chooses student participants for the highly competitive program based upon nominations submitted by each Kentucky school district. Criteria includes academic records and test scores, teacher and community recommendations,
extracurricular and service activities and a writing entry. The program is available at no cost to eligible students.
Students stay in residence halls, engage in daily classes and seminars and hear from speakers from a range of disciplines.
“I personally know how amazing and life-changing this program is for participants,” Gov. Andy Beshear said as he greeted the students via Zoom. “Not only am I an alum from 1995, I am the first Governor’s Scholar to ever serve as
Kentucky’s governor. I am excited that we have found a way to continue this excellent program while prioritizing the safety and well-being of the 2020 class of scholars and the staff.”
GSP began in 1983 as a way to encourage high-achieving Kentucky seniors to attend a Kentucky college or university and then remain in the state to reduce “brain drain.” According to the most recent data, nearly 80 percent of 2017 scholars
chose to pursue higher education in Kentucky in the fall of 2018.
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Grace, who plans to become a lawyer, said that she had already been considering Bellarmine, and her time on campus with GSP made the university even more appealing.
“You can always go on a tour, whether it’s virtual or in person, but being able to live on campus definitely gave me a very real feeling of what the college would feel like if I went there,” she said. “I absolutely loved it. I
loved the size and general campus setup. I thought it felt like a great community.”
As of 2019, nearly 32,000 students have completed GSP. The program has contact information for 25,590 alumni, and of those, 82 percent have a Kentucky address.
Grace, who studied communications and social theory as her focus area in GSP, said her favorite part of the experience was meeting and connecting with so many other scholars from different backgrounds across the state.
“It really opened my eyes to what a community can feel like,” she said. “Everyone was willing to grow and learn and support each other.”