Making lifelong memories

Another group of high school students visit the University of Missouri during the annual Missouri Scholars Academy.

July 12, 2023
Contact: Eric Stann, 573-882-3346, 

As the sound of fiddles and banjos echoed off University of Missouri’s Jesse Hall, 330 Missouri high school students ended their first week at the Missouri Scholars Academy (MSA) by learning how to do-si-do with their peers on square dance night.

But this isn’t just a classic summer camp activity. These teens are also exploring a range of feelings and emotions in a new social environment.

Since 1985, MU has hosted MSA, a three-week summer program for more than 300 academically gifted rising juniors from high schools across the state. Each scholar is often the sole representative of their public school district or private school in Missouri.

“This experience allows them to realize that they're not always the smartest person in the room anymore, freeing them from the pressure of their hometown label and allowing them to find themselves with the help of their peers,” said Steve Keller, co-director of MSA. “Therefore, this is an opportunity for many of these scholars to go through a series of challenges with people they don't know as opposed to their friend group in high school.”  

  • A group of scholars at the 2023 Missouri Scholars Academy pose for a picture on the program's square dance night. Photo by Samantha Novak
Beyond homework

During the program, the young scholars participate in a curriculum designed to help them explore their distinctive abilities while enhancing their critical thinking and strengthening their social skills. This includes a chosen academic major and minor, a personal and social dynamics class and a diverse selection of extra-curricular activities, such as cake decorating or listening to classical music. These activities were announced only 24 hours in advance to keep the scholars living in the moment.

“Back at home everything feels so scheduled, but here it had that routine comfort while still drawing my attention every single day with something new,” said Anthony Pizano, a MSA scholar from Rich Hill.

Missouri high school students participating in the 2023 Missouri Scholars Academy raise their hands during a group activity. Photo by Samantha Novak.

This environment also allowed scholars to further explore their own hobbies and interests.

“I loved my minor class, because I really like comics and it's something I've been interested in for years,” said Hannah Self, a MSA scholar from Hannibal. “So, hearing about it in an academic sense was really interesting to me.”

One of the extra-curricular activities at the 2023 Missouri Scholars Academy included learning and playing chess, such as this game at a table in The MARK on 5th Street, a campus dining hall connected to Mark Twain Residence Hall. Photo by Samantha Novak

Unlike the scholar’s hometown high school classes, MSA’s majors and minors remove homework, grades and tests to enable a sense of community between scholars.

“I've repeatedly told the scholars I work with that they should keep the friends they meet here close, as you never know when they might happen to come back into your life later on,” said Cy Jennings, a MSA resident advisor.

Several scholars converse before a group program begins at the 2023 Missouri Scholars Academy. Photo by Samantha Novak

For former scholar and longtime MSA faculty member Brian Stuhlman, the social connections he made during his time as a MSA scholar helped him find his calling as a teacher. Now as MSA’s director of programing, he wants to provide scholars with similar opportunities to build interpersonal relationships through MSA’s programming opportunities.

A defining part of each scholar’s experience is the personal and social dynamics class, an opportunity for scholars to gain greater insight of themselves. For example, students might participate in positive bombardment, an exercise where one scholar has a small group of scholars go around and say only positive things about them.

“These are once-in-a-lifetime experiences that I hope will allow scholars to leave here with confirmation of what they love and a way forward with that, or to leave with a brand-new worldview,” Stuhlman said.

  • Scholars at the 2023 Missouri Scholars Academy work on an activity in longtime MSA faculty member Brian Stuhlman's class. Photo by Samantha Novak

Written by Abigail Durkin

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