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Counselors help students grow as leaders at Summer Honors Program

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UNG hosted 40 high school students on the Dahlonega Campus for the Summer Honors Program.

Catrina May graduated from the University of North Georgia (UNG) in May 2016. But she returns to Dahlonega every year to help with the Summer Honors Program.

This June marked the Ellijay, Georgia, native's fifth as a counselor with Summer Honors, which teaches leadership skills and provides academic training for rising high school seniors. The 2019 Summer Honors Program ran from June 16-28 on UNG's Dahlonega Campus.

"What keeps me coming back is the growth we see in the students," May said. "It is so fulfilling to see the work that we do helps another generation of students to become leaders."

The high school students experienced activities that ranged from leadership reaction courses at UNG's Pine Valley Recreation Complex to academic classes to a small taste of undergraduate research to an etiquette dinner. On one day, they climbed Mount Yonah near Cleveland, Georgia.

May, who earned a master's degree in mathematics from the University of Georgia and this fall will begin her doctorate work in mathematics at Georgia State University, said Summer Honors encourages students to get out of their comfort zones.

"I enjoy seeing them challenge themselves and do more than they thought they could," May said.

Now in its 37th year, Summer Honors works in conjunction with UNG's Honors Program. Students from Cherokee, Fannin, Whitfield, Lumpkin, and White counties are part of the 2019 group of 40 students, who are aided by eight counselors. Their school systems pay for students to attend Summer Honors.

Kelly West, senior lecturer of biology at UNG, was the program director after two years as assistant director. Dr. Robb Sinn, professor of mathematics at UNG and longtime Summer Honors director, assisted this summer. West marveled at the way former students still return to help.

"They've seen firsthand the difference this program makes in the lives of Summer Honors students, and how they can help give these students the skills to succeed in life," West said.

Claire Allinson, a UNG senior pursuing degrees in accounting and mathematics, is the Pine Valley coordinator. The Lilburn, Georgia, native was in her fourth year as a Summer Honors counselor.

Allinson appreciated the chance to see students go from strangers who struggled with their first Pine Valley activities to more confident teammates as they progressed.

"Working at Pine Valley always challenges me," Allinson said. "I like to see how the students overcome those challenges, as well."

May said the undergraduate research projects, which began two years ago, provide a rare opportunity for high school students. Research topics included physics, education, language arts, and microbiology.

"They are actually participating in this research," May said. "They're doing hands-on work that is comparable to an undergraduate research setting. It's a concrete representation of the work the students do at Summer Honors that they can show off to their parents at the end of the program."

Allinson said students asked her all kinds of questions and "love to hear about my college experience."

West said the counselors went above and beyond.

"Even when counselors could have free time, they choose to stay with students and take up that offer to play chess, listen to another play guitar, or talk to a student about college applications or life," West said. "So, when counselors ask the students to reach out of their comfort zones or engage in unfamiliar disciplines, the students are willing to take that leap of faith, because they've built that relationship with trust and time."

Anna Cronan, a Lumpkin County High School student who is on the soccer team, is eager to share what she learned at Summer Honors when she goes back to school.

"I'm hoping to take that back and help the freshmen on my team," Cronan said.

West and Allinson said Summer Honors students often end up adding UNG to their list of possible college destinations.

While Summer Honors provided a multitude of growth opportunities for participants, the benefits extended to everyone involved.

"I learn more about being a leader every single time I come back," May said.

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