(From Northwest Missouri State’s News Service)
MARYVILLE, Mo. – Northwest Missouri State University’s Missouri Academy of Science, Mathematics and Computing celebrated its legacy of providing an alternative academic experience for high-achieving high school juniors and seniors Saturday as 46 students crossed the stage, representing the final class to graduate from the institution.
The Missouri Academy – a two-year accelerated, early-entrance-to-college residential program for academically-talented students that is located on the campus of Northwest campus – is ending its operations this spring. Launched in 2000, the Missouri Academy was designed for students with career aspirations in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
While 895 students earned their high school diplomas and associate degrees from the Missouri Academy, beginning with the first graduating class in the spring of 2002, dozens of alumni returned Saturday and filled the seats of the Ron Houston Center for the Performing Arts on the Northwest campus. The ceremony featured a representative of each of the Missouri Academy’s 17 graduating classes reflecting on their experiences and the impacts of the program on their lives.
Angela Truesdale, a member of that first class known as the Pathfinders, went on to complete her bachelor’s degree in biological sciences at the University of Missouri-Columbia in 2005 and is employed as an intellectual property attorney at a Kansas City law firm.
“My classmates and I saw when we arrived that there was no path, so we decided to make a new one,” Truesdale said. “That path has clearly become a trail, followed by students for almost two decades. Despite the achievements of the Academy and all of its students, this particular path will be tread no more.”
She continued, telling the 2018 class, called the Dreamers, “Do not fear change, failure or the judgments of others. Muster your courage. Choose to have faith in yourself and create a new path because it may become an important trail for others.”
Alumni recalled the Missouri Academy’s rigorous and challenging curriculum, which afforded them structure and discipline and helped them develop a stronger work ethic. “As we moved on to the workplace, we’ve developed the grit and thickness that’s necessary to tackle the really difficult problems,” said Carl Stagle a 2012 graduate who earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology and works at Honeywell FM&T. “The bruises are worth it,” he added.
Speaking on behalf of the class of 2018, Fuechai Vang, a Grandview, Missouri, native who plans to continue his education at the University of Minnesota, praised Missouri Academy Dean Dr. Cleo Samudzi and the opportunities the program provided while acknowledging the adversity and challenges graduates overcame in the face of the Northwest’s decision to discontinue it.
“I had no idea about what I was getting into when I applied for the Missouri Academy,” Vang said. “I didn’t want to leave my comfy and cozy shell, where I knew I wouldn’t be challenged. But there was a little bit of curiosity poking at my brain, which kept me wondering what things could be like in different environments. … It is an understatement to say this place and the people here have completely changed my life.”
Among the 46 students to graduate from the Missouri Academy this spring were 25 international students representing China and South Korea. Thirty-two of the graduates completed their coursework with grade-point averages between 3.5 and 4.0. Among those, 11 students earned GPAs between 3.95 and 4.0.
Thirty-five graduates are advancing to a college or university in pursuit of STEM-related degrees, while other graduates plan to pursue studies in the areas of accounting, finance, history, psychology and linguistics. The graduates are attending a list of universities that includes the University of Kansas, Purdue University, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Southern California.
In his closing remarks, Samudzi reiterated the lessons of integrity and quality – or IQ – he has imparted on Missouri Academy students since becoming its dean in 2004. Samudzi commended the graduates for being brave enough to take a calculated risk and attend the Missouri Academy, on giving back to their communities and for developing tools that will help them build relationships.
In 20 years when Samudzi reaches the age of 80, he concluded to the graduates, “you will be running our financial institutions, our political institutions, educational institutions, court systems, scientific enterprises, religious institutions, healthcare system and the list goes on. I feel comfortable knowing that you will be making decisions for me because you are grounded in IQ.”
Students honored for achievements
Missouri Academy staff, students and their families also gathered for a banquet Friday night to recognize the success of its students and student groups at regional, state and national competitions, in addition to awarding several individual honors.
Robert Fahrenholtz received the Dean’s Award. It is the highest honor awarded at the Missouri Academy to students who epitomize the values and ideals of the program. Consideration is given to students with a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.90, undergraduate research in STEM subjects and aspirations in STEM fields as well as exemplary leadership and character.
Jaeeun Lee, Yoo Na Kim, Jie Qiu and Ruida Zeng received the Academic Excellence Award, which is awarded to students who excel academically at the Missouri Academy. Consideration is given to students with a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.90; high performance on the PSAT, ACT or SAT; the general education proficiency test and other academic successes. Eligible students must also show positive engagement in the Missouri Academy living and learning community.
Kara Brown, Jacob Nyhagen, Fuechai Vang and Eabryana Zeller earned the Student Development Award. It is awarded to students who demonstrate the principles of integrity and quality espoused by the Missouri Academy. Consideration also is given to students’ community service and exemplary leadership skills.
Jacklyn Cook, Trevor Lewis and James Washington received the Delta Award. It is awarded to students who demonstrate the greatest degree of development or improvement – academically or socially – from the time they arrive at the Missouri Academy to their graduation.