Republic junior Luke Willis spent three weeks of his summer participating in what he calls a “life-changing experience” at the University of Missouri. Willis was one of 330 students chosen to participate in the Missouri Scholars Academy, a three-week program for gifted students.
Willis said counselors suggested he apply in January, and he already knew about the program because his older sister, Haley, had attended. Despite her rave reviews, though, he wasn’t sure what to expect. “I was apprehensive at first, as I was the only person from our school and didn’t know any of the other scholars. Even though I was nervous… I told myself I was going to go into it with an open mind and make the most out of it,” he said. “I was hoping to gain the life-changing experience that my sister had, meet some new people from different backgrounds, and really grow my knowledge as a whole.”
A typical day at MSA consisted of a three-hour “major class” in the morning (for Willis, this was Understanding the Modern Middle East) and a one-hour “minor class” in the afternoon (Out of this World – a class on astronomy). After that, students attended a class on personal and social dynamics that was “largely focused on mental health (and) issues we face in today’s world,” said Willis. Evening speakers included survivors of the Holocaust and of Rwandan genocide, several professors, and others.
Despite the high expectations set by his sister, the program did not disappoint. After a few hours of feeling overwhelmed, Willis settled in and felt comfortable.
“The experience as a whole was incredible and I second my sister in saying that it was life-changing and arguably the best three weeks of my life,” Willis said. “There were so many great moments that picking just a few would be impossible, but I think the best part of MSA was the people there. I made some of the best friends I’ve ever had and still talk to them daily, even though the majority live in other parts of the state.
“Everyone was just so amazingly open-minded, genuine, caring, and easy to talk to. Every conversation was meaningful and I connected with the people there in a different way than anyone I had ever met.”