Published: June 1, 2017

A high school student from Burlington throws a bean bag while wearing vision-distorting goggles

Humsini Acharya, a mechanical engineering and neuroscience junior, far left, watches Virginia Steach, a Burlington High School junior, toss a bean bag toward a target while wearing prism goggles that skew her vision. The exercise was part of a tour of the neuroscience lab at the Center for Innovation and Creativity on the CU Boulder campus.(Photo by Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado)

Danica Vogels, 17, has always dreamed of a career in the medical field. This week, the 11th-grader from Akron got to experience first-hand what it means to study the brain during a visit to the University of Colorado Boulder with other students from rural school districts.

“The most interesting part of the day was visiting the neuroscience lab,” said Vogels, as she finished listening to CU Boulder researcher Kenny Carlson explain on ongoing experiment looking at brain activity in children. “I liked getting to look at the MRI machine and seeing how the researchers interact with the subjects.”

Vogels is one of 68 students from 15 school districts in northeast and east central Colorado who spent three days this week on campus as part of a program that provides gifted and talented middle and high school students with unique learning experiences

An image of a brain scan on a screen

A CU researcher explains an MRI image of a teenage brain.

The students, who came from as far away as Cheyenne Wells and Julesburg, made fires, learned map and compass skills, created story “maps” about their lives, visited the Intermountain Neuroimaging Consortium lab and headed to Fiske Planetarium for a star show.

“We call the program ‘in search of’ and every year we are in search of something different,” said Paula McGuire, gifted and talented coordinator for northeast Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), which provides collaborative programs to Colorado school districts. “This year, we are in search of direction and all the workshops focused on this concept, asking students to think about where they have been, where they are going and how they are going to get there.”

McGuire said schools in rural districts have limited resources for gifted and talented programming, so BOCES brings students from different districts together to offer experiences they might not otherwise get. At the beginning of each summer, the students visit places around the state. Occasionally, they head to a campus for a multi-day stint to get a taste of college life via classes and overnight stays in the dorms.

A high school student holds a plastic brain

Sean Michaels, 15, of Genoa Hugo High School in Hugo looks over a miniature brain during a presentation. (Photo by Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado)

“These programs are really a focal point of the summer,” McGuire said. “The students love getting together with other students who have similar interests, to make social connections and discover who they are beyond their academic gifts.”

Jodi Church, gifted education regional consultant for east central BOCES, said the students enjoy reconnecting each summer with friends they made from previous years’ events.

“Not only do the students have opportunities to engage in challenging academic activities, but we also try to plan activities that will require them to step outside of their comfort zones and try something new,” Church said. “Sometimes, this will be a physical activity like white water rafting or rappelling. Other times it is a creative activity involving art, music or drama. The students always have opportunities to collaborate and solve problems together.”

The students came from Byers, Elizabeth, Kiowa, Hugo, Limon, Burlington, Stratton, Deer Trail, Cheyenne Wells, Julesburg, Sterling, Peetz, Otis, Akron and Woodlin districts.

CU Boulder’s Office for Outreach and Engagement helped to coordinate the visit.