Gifted students find culture, science and friendship in MUN-hosted program

Danette Dooley
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Roughly 50 of the country's most gifted high school students and recent grads are wrapping up a month-long stay in Newfoundland as participants in Memorial University's seventh annual Shad Valley program.

The students have attended more than 30 lectures and interactive seminars while they've been here, but 18-year-old Thomas Mayerhofer from Pembroke, Ont., said it's the cultural experiences he'll remember most.

Education -

Roughly 50 of the country's most gifted high school students and recent grads are wrapping up a month-long stay in Newfoundland as participants in Memorial University's seventh annual Shad Valley program.

The students have attended more than 30 lectures and interactive seminars while they've been here, but 18-year-old Thomas Mayerhofer from Pembroke, Ont., said it's the cultural experiences he'll remember most.

"We went to Fogo Island and Bell Island. We did a lot of hiking. The nature out here is very cool," he said.

The two-day trip to Fogo included home cooking and a hike to Brimstone Head - an area the Flat Earth Society considers to be one of the four corners of the Earth.

The students also spent time in Tilting on the northeastern tip of Fogo Island.

MUN Shad Valley is one of 10 such programs held at Canadian universities. More than 1,000 students applied last year and only half were accepted, says MUN Shad Valley project director Leonard Lye.

While many of the lectures and seminars focused on science, technology and entrepreneurship, the students also participated in fun activities such as breakdancing, juggling and tai chi.

Lye said Shad Valley students are not only high achievers, but also very involved in their communities, with many excelling at music or sports.

"It's unusual for anyone to be accepted with an average less than 90," Lye says.

Shad Valley showcases not only what MUN has to offer, but also the province and its unique culture, Lye says.

"We have the support here from the university, from government and from the community. ... We take the best and make them better," Lye says.

Mayerhofer says when he finishes high school next year he was thinking about a career in medicine, but Shad Valley has shown him that he has many more options.

"Coming here has put a lot of things into perspective to me. I'm thinking now I may go into marine biology. Or we had a lecture on architecture which always kind of interested me, but I never really realized how it could be applied. So, maybe architecture as well," Mayerhofer says.

The theme of this year's main project - Looking to Nature and Natural Fibres - challenges groups of students to find innovative ways to use natural fibres.

The students had to come up with an idea, complete a business and make a protocol of their idea.

Sixteen-year-old Catherine Jardine from London, Ont., says her group is working on constructing a bio-centre.

"We're trying to promote natural fibres and let people learn about it and understand it. It's like a museum that focuses on natural fibres," Jardine says.

Learning new things, coupled with the friendliness of the people makes Shad Valley a great learning experience, Jardine says, adding she'll be promoting the program to others when she gets home.

"We're learning about nanotechnology and biochemistry. We went to the Botanical Gardens and we visited the marine simulator. It's very different here. ... Everyone is so friendly and so nice. They're ready to do anything for us," Jardine says.

The public is invited to attend Shad Valley's open day from 1-4 p.m. Thursday at MUN's Inco Innovation Centre. Projects undertaken by the participants will be on display.

danette@nl.rogers.com

Organizations: Flat Earth Society

Geographic location: MUN, Fogo Island, Newfoundland Pembroke Bell Island Tilting London, Ont. Botanical Gardens

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