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Summer Honors Program teaches high school students about leadership

Hannah Menard, a 17-year-old rising senior at Woodstock High School, participates in the high ropes course at Pine Valley during University of North Georgia's Summer Honors Program. Nearly 40 rising seniors learned to branch out, literally and figuratively, during the program from June 17-29 on the Dahlonega Campus.

Samuel Hirsch, a 17-year-old from Canton, Georgia, said he is not a natural people-person, which makes it a struggle to be a leader. To address that, the rising senior from Creekview High School participated in University of North Georgia's (UNG) Summer Honors Program.

"I'm more introverted," Hirsch said. "And this program causes you to branch out."

Hirsh and 36 other rising seniors learned to branch out, literally and figuratively, from June 17-29 at UNG's Dahlonega Campus. In the morning, students experienced the college curriculum through authentic undergraduate research projects. In the afternoon, they tested their mettle on the adventure-learning ropes courses at UNG's Pine Valley recreational complex.

Hirsch's favorite course was one where students had to traverse the low-to-the-ground tightropes by keeping their balance and relying on fellow teammates.

"It forces you to work physically and think logically," Hirsch said, adding if one person failed, then it cost the whole team. "So you have to step up and take initiative."

Dr. Robb Sinn, professor of mathematics and director of the Summer Honors Program at UNG, explained the ropes course is the perfect place for teenagers to implement and hone their leadership skills.

"We believe the only way to learn leadership is to work with a team is to accomplish an objective," Sinn said.

UNG’s Summer Honors staff and leadership trainers devised ropes course activities for teams to complete. Trainers and facilitators coached the students on the course and awarded points. Once the students accomplished the task, they were debriefed.

"We asked them how their leadership skills can improve," Sinn said. "Then we encouraged them and gave them constructive criticism."

The Summer Honors Program is not all competition. Fun activities such as gliding down a zip line were incorporated during the activities at Pine Valley.

Students also spent time in classrooms, learning about a specific pathway of their choosing and completing its activity. The pathways were:

  • Pre-law — two groups of students argued a current Fourth Amendment case before a simulated Supreme Court.
  • Pre-engineering — three teams of engineers designed trebuchets using an online simulator, then built and tested them.
  • Science of Humor and Playfulness (statistics) — students learned to use multivariate statistics software tools to analyze survey data and model aspects of humor and playfulness including their relationship to other personality variables such as narcissism, perfectionism, self-esteem, neuroticism, and others.
  • Psychology — Students had two projects: (1) Used eye tracker software to analyze which portions of the screen attract the viewer's attention during a short video such as a commercial. (2) Used 3D Topography Augmented Reality Sandbox and a Kinect to analyze spatial reasoning abilities of participants.

Hannah Menard, a 17-year-old rising senior at Woodstock High School, selected pre-law.

"The classes have been interesting and it's not subjects that I have experienced before," she said. "It's interesting learning about new things."

Sinn said he's had several students each year describe the summer program as life-changing.

Camryn Goins, who attended the Summer Honors program in 2016 and is now a UNG student, agreed.

"There is a lot more to the program than the description you read online when you apply," said Goins, a sophomore from Woodstock, Georgia, majoring in psychology. "It was so much more than I expected."

Goins said she never would have had the opportunity to learn to climb and rappel if she had not attended Summer Honors. Now she works at Pine Valley.

Goins also credited the 12-day experience with helping her with her future. She selected the psychology pathway, since it was going to be her major at UNG.

"It was intriguing and made it easier to figure out what I was going to do with my life," she said.

For more information, visit UNG's Summer Honors Program website.

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