The annual trip to the state capital by members of the Kansas Academy of Mathematics and Science continues to have the feel of a mutual admiration society.
The Kansas Legislature established KAMS to promote mathematics and science education, to reduce the "brain drain" in which many of the best and brightest young Kansans go away to out-of-state universities and never return, and to promote economic development by providing a well-educated workforce. Kansas was the 16th state to have an early-entry-to-college program that offers a unique residential learning experience for high-achieving high school juniors and seniors.
This was the fourth year for the trip, and the warmth of the welcome that lawmakers extended to the students on Wednesday made it clear that they consider the KAMS initiative to be a great success.
The 36 students in the KAMS Vanguard Class -- all high school juniors -- received standing ovations when they were recognized on the floors of the Kansas Senate and the Kansas House of Representatives. Both houses of the Legislature unanimously passed resolutions -- introduced in the House by Rep. Sue Boldra, R-Hays, and in the Senate by Sen. Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson -- commending the students and Fort Hays State University, which is the home of the new academy.
"It was very inspirational to see all the support from the Legislature," said Abbie Dishman, a member of the Vanguard Class from Topeka. "Attending such an academy is an opportunity students in most of the country do not have. I'm honored to be part of it."
The KAMS students posed for photographs with the senator from their district. Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka, made a special trip to her office to bring back her business card for Dishman after the photo. "I really enjoyed meeting Sen. Schmidt," Dishman said. "She gave me her card and encouraged me to stay in touch and share my experiences at KAMS. I will do that."
The Vanguard Class attended part of the afternoon meeting of the Kansas Board of Regents, where they were introduced by Dr. Edward H. Hammond, FHSU president, and they visited the courtroom of the Kansas Supreme Court in the Kansas Judicial Center.
Brad Leupold, a KAMS student from Hiawatha, reflected on the warmth of the welcome his Vanguard Class received everywhere they went. "I've never been to the Capitol before, so I was especially impressed just by the history and beauty of it. That struck me," he said. The Capitol is nearing the end of a multi-year restoration project.
At the Judicial Center, Justice Eric Rosen described the work of the Kansas Supreme Court and answered questions from the students. He invited them to come forward and pose for photos in the justices' chairs. He visited individually with students while their classmates were rotating through the seven seats.
"I really enjoyed talking to Justice Rosen," Leupold said. "He was very accommodating and answered my questions. I asked if the justices ever had different interpretations of the Kansas Constitution. He said there was usually consensus on the meaning of the Constitution, but sometimes there were differences in how that meaning applied to the circumstances of a case."
Leupold was one of five members of the Vanguard Class who, along with Ron Keller, director of KAMS, talked to the Senate Education Committee about the FHSU-based program. "I enjoyed getting to present to the Education Committee," he said. "It was really an honor."
Sam DeVore, a member of the Vanguard Class from Lyons, also talked about the session of the Senate Education Committee and how "human" state officials had been with the KAMS students. He said he was surprised to hear Sen. Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City and chair of the committee, exclaim "Cool!" in response to descriptions of their research projects by the five presenters.
"It was interesting to see what goes on behind the scenes," DeVore said of the day-long tour.
KAMS was created by the Kansas Legislature in 2006. After inviting proposals from all the state's public higher education institutions, the Kansas Board of Regents selected FHSU in 2007 to host KAMS, and the first KAMS class convened in August 2009.
The KAMS students live in a dedicated residence hall on the FHSU campus and participate in a hands-on rigorous research environment with Ph.D. faculty that focuses on academics, research, leadership development and civic engagement. KAMS graduates receive both a high school diploma and at least 68 hours of college credit.
Keller said that of the 34 students who have graduated from KAMS to date, 80 percent have chosen to stay in Kansas to complete their college degrees.
Each year the new class of high school juniors makes the trip to Topeka to learn about state government and to share their experiences in the statewide academy for exceptional high school students.
Members of the KAMS Vanguard Class: Elliot Bicker, Hiawatha; Michael Cory, Wichita; Alexander Crider, Wichita; Samuel DeVore, Lyons; Abigail Dishman, Topeka; Mason Gates, Manhattan; Rachel Hasch, Concordia; Gabriel Horton, Topeka; Jonathan Howard, Peru; Eleanor Justin, Overland Park; MinYoung Kim, Gwangju Metropolitan, Korea; Abigail Ladner, Lawrence; DongHee Lee, Seoul, South Korea; Bradley Leupold, Hiawatha; Elizabeth Lewis, Lawrence; Morgan Linder, Baldwin City; Alexa Melvin, Topeka; Morgan Murray, Shawnee; Nathanial Nehring, Wamego; Pratik Patel, Salina; Amber Perdew, Goodland; Quincy Rayls, Topeka; Garrett Redden, Glasco; Laura Rook, Junction City; Christopher Siegle, Council Grove; Briana Singleton, Wichita; Arynne Smallback, Topeka; Tyler Standley, Nickerson; Adam Stenson, Olathe; Tanner Swartz, Alexander; BreAnna Terry, Wichita; Justin Weaver, Benton; Codie Webster, Olsburg; Shelby Young, Chapman; Tianhao Yu, Beijing, China; and Junyu Zhang, Anshun Guizhon, China.