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Cheyenne Student Enjoys Unique Educational Journey

June 28, 2012
People conversing
University of Wyoming Physiology Professor Robert Kitchin conducts a simulated HIV test with Pamela Velazquez of Cheyenne during a High School Institute course on “HIV/AIDS: Disease and Dilemma.” Velazquez is among more than 80 sophomores from 50 Wyoming school districts attending the annual institute that allows the students to explore their intellectual, social and creative interests. (UW Photo)

When Cheyenne South High School student Pamela Velazquez stepped onto the University of Wyoming campus for the first time earlier this summer, her first impression was, “Wow, this place is huge!” Then, she asked, “Why are there so many bikes?”

Velazquez answered that question, though, when she worried about getting from her residence hall to class in 10 minutes.

“I guess that explains why there are so many bikes,” she says.

She is among more than 80 sophomores from 50 Wyoming school districts attending the three-week High School Institute (HSI), an educational journey that allows the students to explore their intellectual, social and creative interests. Each day, the students take two classes taught by some of UW’s outstanding faculty members. Classes range from philosophy to hip-hop to robotics and pharmacy.

Velazquez -- who joined other Cheyenne students Christopher Coffelt, Emily Robinnette, Chantelle Runion and Dean Ryan from Central High School; and Maia Marces, James Munoz and Emily Wood from East High School -- selected to take courses in “Philosophy through Science Fiction” and  “HIV/AIDS: Disease and Dilemma.”

“The classes really make you think about how people feel when you act or don't act upon a situation,” says Velazquez, who nearly always wears a flower in her hair when she attends classes. “It makes you change the way you look at people and problems of the world. Also, you get to see other people’s point of view.”

Each year, Wyoming high schools nominate top sophomores, and a group of UW faculty members selects the students, who enjoy a rare opportunity to learn and exchange ideas without concern about grades or credits. The intent is to help students achieve their academic and personal potential, and cultivate leadership capabilities. The program is designed to expand students' horizons, develop their adaptability, creativity and critical thinking abilities; and heighten their sensitivity to future possibilities for themselves and society.

Velazquez says the experience has influenced her educational plans, and she is considering attending UW.

“The university is really nice and it’s much more affordable than other places,” she says. “Also, my experience here has been wonderful.”

The HSI experience goes beyond academics, though. Athletic activities, talent shows, picnics, community service, dances, outside speakers, attendance at local concerts and plays, visits to museums and enrichment excursions complement the three-week experience.

“I have enjoyed the activities the group has to offer the most. They are really fun and all of them are learning experiences,” Velazquez says.

The success of the program should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with it, says Duncan Harris, HSI director since 1998.

“Every year, the students delight us with their enthusiasm and inventiveness, and this is especially true this year,” Harris says. “From classes to their field trips to Saratoga, Centennial, and Vedauwoo, the students show the intellectual enrichment that the program was created to foster. It’s a heartening experience for all of us.”

Velazquez agrees wholeheartedly.

“It's a really great experience and you learn so much,” she says. “Probably the most significant, noteworthy, life-changing experience I have ever had. It's great.”

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