Governor's School in full swing at Radford University


Some of the best and brightest of the state's high school students are visiting Radford University for the Virginia Summer Residential Governor's Schools in the Humanities and the Visual and Performing Arts.

Governor's School is a unique academic and social pre-collegiate experience that provides high school students with an early look at the college experience, full of academic challenges and the opportunity to live on campus for a month. The program began on June 22 and continues through July 19.

Since 2010, RU has been selected by the Virginia Department of Education to host the program, which gives junior and senior high school students the opportunity to use their creativity in music, visual and performing arts and the humanities. Students choose the classes that most pique their interest from a varied curriculum taught by RU faculty members and guest instructors.

"Governor's School assembles truly outstanding students in their respective disciplines to come to study at an intensive level with other students of similar caliber," said College of Visual and Performing Arts faculty member Joe Scartelli, one of the event's many faculty supporters and organizers. "The level of instruction and expectations exceeds a typical high school experience, significantly strengthening their preparation for university or conservatory study."

Young artists receive their invitations to the visual and performing arts school based on the strength of their previous work. While at Governor's School, they will explore fields like dance, music, art and theater at a collegiate level, with classes that focus on creativity, expression and collaboration.


Barbara Klupeful, center, explains how to bind the spine a book. With her are (Left to Right) Laruen Woods, Brianna Preputnik and Tara Laughlin.

"I had no idea what it was going to be like here," said Emma Norville, a rising senior from West Potomac High School in Alexandria. The theater student was excited to discover a group of like-minded young artists eager to learn more about their craft. "When you come here you meet so many people who appreciate what you do and they're very similar to you. Similar, but not the same."

The desire to collaborate draws faculty to Governor's School as well. RU alumna Amy Surratt '08 returned to campus for the first time as a theater professional to teach "Making New Work," a Governor's School theater course.

"There is so much experimental and collaborative work out there," said Surratt, who lives and works in New York City. "Here the students create their own work instead of just interpreting someone's script. Governor's School gives people from different life circumstances the chance to collaborate and learn how to build community."

According to Surratt, it was a quick "yes" when she was approached about teaching a class.

"I was happy to come because I haven’t been back to RU to work since I graduated," she said. "I had so many formative experiences here."

Some of those same formative experiences will affect her students. Dalton Hedrick, a rising senior from Chancellor High School in Fredericksburg, has been most impressed by the facilities and faculty that students have access to at Radford.

"I've never been to Radford, but I got here and saw that there were three auditoriums and so much space for the arts and we get to use all of it," Hedrick said. I think it's great to be a place where there are these opportunities for arts. It's been awesome and I feel like I have been here for two months instead of weeks."

The experience of the humanities school students varies slightly from that of their performer friends, as they find themselves in classrooms instead of auditoriums. For them, Governor's School is about college-level seminar courses that explore society in intriguing new ways. Students in Paul Thomas' course "The Cultural Significance of Monsters" discovered that creatures like Frankenstein and Dracula aren't just fictional boogeymen, but reflections of the society that created them.

"We're examining what it means to have monsters in the discourse, what the monsters say about us," said Thomas, an assistant professor of religious studies at RU, who has researched and written about the topic of monsters in the Old Testament. "It builds on what I've done, but we go beyond biblical monsters and look at the ones in the culture.

The nearly 30 students enrolled in his Governor's School courses have been incredibly impressive, he said.

"They are excellent students and I'd be happy to have any one of them in my class here at RU," Thomas said. "They say we get the best and brightest students in the state and I can see that it is true."


Hannah Piester brings up a point as she and her fellow classmates discuss some of the behaviors they have seen in a video about one band of primates as part of their Primatology class.

Cassady Urista, assistant professor of anthropology, echoes her instructor colleague about the caliber of students in the humanities school.

"The students are really smart and really interested," Urista said. "They're creative and inquisitive. They came here to learn, when they could be home hanging out at home."

Urista is teaching a course in primatology, the study of primates. The course covers biology as well as anthropology, expanding the scope of what students can learn at Governor's School. The end goal, of course, is to discover why the primate family tree behaves like it does and why humans act the way they do, she said.

For their part, the humanities students themselves are enjoying the challenges and rewards of being selected for Governor's School, both inside and outside of the classroom

Elizabeth Dinneny, a rising senior from Potomac Falls High School in Sterling, is pleased to have found herself in the intellectually stimulating environment.

"The classes here are great," Dinneny said. "They're so different from ours in school. Instead of worrying about tests and grades in the same way, we can just have great discussions with our teachers and other students."

For Anna Alpern, a rising senior from Monacan High School in North Chesterfield, the chance to live the life of a college student for a month is one of the best aspects of Governor's School.

"It's different being at a college," Alpern said. "I like all the freedom I have here."

For more information about the Virginia Summer Residential Governor's Schools in the Humanities and the Visual and Performing Arts or to learn more about opportunities for next year's summer program at Radford University, call (540) 831-7828, or email

Jul 7, 2014