Kentucky Governor’s Scholars celebrates unique, successful 2020 summer program in spite of COVID-19

FRANKFORT, Ky. (Aug. 17, 2020) – The Kentucky Governor’s Scholars Program (GSP), within the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet (EWDC), recognized 1,020 outstanding Kentucky high school seniors, representing all 120 counties, for completing the 38th summer program. The modified GSP summer program had a mixture of virtual and in-person experiences to keep students and staffers safe from COVID-19.

Calling them his fellow scholars, Gov. Andy Beshear, a GSP alum from 1995, congratulated the scholars who received their certificates and were inducted into the Alumni Association of the Governor’s Scholars Program on July 31, the last day of the 2020 summer program. During the GSP 2020 summer program, the governor spoke virtually to each group.  

“As a Governor’s Scholars Program alum, I could not be more proud of these extraordinary scholars and the way they have conducted themselves during this unusual time. They were models of how to embrace COVID-19 health and safety practices so they could learn together, and I believe they will continue to model that in their home communities,” said Gov. Beshear. “As the first alum to serve as Kentucky’s governor, I want them to know that any dream they put their minds to and work hard at is possible.”

The high school seniors selected from across Kentucky for GSP attended shortened one-week residential programs instead of the usual five weeks. Class size was reduced to promote social distancing. Instead of 340 scholars at three colleges and universities for five weeks, this year GSP had 85 to 125 students per week at Centre College in Danville and Bellarmine University in Louisville.

“Congratulations to the GSP Class of 2020 on completing this nationally recognized program. I believe this life-changing experience will serve as a springboard for their senior year and postsecondary education after they graduate. Thank you to our partners at Centre College and Bellarmine University for their amazing job of hosting the scholars during these challenging times,” said Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, who is also the secretary of EWDC. 

“As a teacher, I appreciate the hard work of everyone associated with GSP. We could not have had this wonderful learning experience for our scholars without their dedication to keeping it safe and their persistence in the face of challenges.”

GSP 2020 began June 28 at Centre College and then added a second campus at Bellarmine University the following week. The GSP worked to replicate as many aspects of the traditional five-week program as possible. The scholars engaged academically and socially while complying with public health guidelines such as wearing masks, washing their hands frequently and maintaining at least six feet of distance.

“This year, the scholars were given the option to attend a modified in-person week at one of the host institutions. Out of the 1,020 selected scholars, 955 chose to participate face-to-face or ‘mask-to mask’ as one scholar said, making the summer program a reality and a success for the Governor’s Scholars,” said Aristofanes Cedeño, Ph.D., executive director and academic dean of the GSP.

“While this was a modified GSP version, the program stayed true to its mission. The Governor’s Scholars left wanting more time on campus while also feeling equipped to assume their role as civic and economic leaders for the commonwealth,” he said.  

Faculty who had been with the program for many years said they were surprised and impressed with how well a week of GSP provided a taste of the program. 

Melony Shemberger, Ph.D., from Murray State University and a GSP faculty member, said: “The modified format was challenging, but that is how I grow and learn as an educator. The time that I spent on the GSP-Centre campus and my experiences this summer are among the best in my educational journey.”

To participate in the extremely competitive program, a statewide selection committee chose well-rounded participants based upon nominations submitted by each Kentucky school district. Selection criteria is based upon 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. 

When GSP began in 1983, Kentucky leaders wanted to encourage high-achieving Kentucky seniors to go to a Kentucky college or university and stay in the state to reduce “brain drain” from the state. According to the most recent data, nearly 80% of 2017 scholars chose to pursue higher education in Kentucky in the fall of 2018.

Including the Class of 2020, more than 33,000 students have completed GSP.

Scholar Conner Finney, Johnson Central High School, said he is grateful that the people associated with GSP were persistent and believed in the mission of the program.

“Thankfully, all the scholars, including myself, found out this summer that GSP is not about following the pack; GSP is about being a leader and showing leadership values,” Finney said. “So not only am I thankful for GSP’s persistence, I am thankful for its leadership and for being given the opportunity to take part in an amazing program that gave me confidence, knowledge, and most importantly helped me become a leader amongst my peers and community. I know we only got to attend one week, but I got more from it than I ever imagined possible.”

To learn more about the Governor’s Scholars Program, visit