• Governor’s Institutes Winter and summer, special learning takes place here
    By David Delcore
     | February 10,2014
     

    Photo by Ben Albury Governor's Institute of Vermont site director, Marcel Freda, thanks parents and students for taking part in the institute's winter weekend during the event's closing ceremony at Goddard College in Plainfield on Sunday.

    PLAINFIELD —

    Sixteen-year-old Steven Hepp spent his sun-filled February weekend completely immersed in a video game.

    Typical teenager?

    Not really.

    Hepp, who lives in East Montpelier, wasn’t playing the video game — the sophomore at U-32 High School was helping to create it from scratch under the watchful eye of a college professor as part of a weekend that was tailor-made for students with special interests from around the state.

    All 64 of them arrived at Goddard College on Friday evening and by the time they left the Plainfield campus Sunday afternoon they’d put in 10 hours of class time, did a little socializing, compared notes, competed and learned.

    Learning is what the Governor’s Institutes “Winter Weekends” are all about, and a sampling of students from 35 Vermont high schools, from Brattleboro and Burlington to Williamstown and Woodstock, said the first of two that will be held this month didn’t disappoint.

    Just ask Dakota Brosky and Erika Petterssen, two freshmen at nearby Twinfield Union School. Though both Plainfield girls had hoped to enroll in an astrophotography course, which will be offered during the upcoming “Winter Weekend” that is scheduled to start on Feb. 21, they settled for “advanced math for girls.”

    Over the weekend Brosky and Petterssen said they learned more than they ever thought they would know about “icosahedrons,” and the protein patterns of tongue-twisting viruses that they researched and modeled.

    “I’ve learned a lot,” said Brosky, who has always been interested in math and didn’t think twice about signing up for the course after learning that astrophotography was fully enrolled.

    Same goes for Petterssen, who hopes the astrophotography course will be offered again, but said the weekend of science and math lived up to her expectations.

    “I thought it would be a cool opportunity to meet new people who are interested in the same stuff that I am and to explore new things,” said Petterssen.

    “I was right,” she added.

    While Brosky and Petterssen were putting the finishing touches on their 20-sided models of rare viruses that both struggled to spell and pronounce, Hepp was busy designing a new video game and experimenting with “augmented reality” under the tutelage of Champlain College professor Coberlin Brownell.

    “It’s called: ‘Operation Dr. Blood,’” said Hepp, who teamed up on the project with Andrew Getz, a New York native who calls North Carolina home but goes to school in Putney, and Max Hurley, a sophomore at Middlebury Union High School.

    “It’s based on the game ‘Operation,’ but with a dark twist,” he explained.

    Unless, of course, you hit the toggle button that takes you to a blood-free, animated, children’s version of the game: “Operation Dr. Fun.”

    “That’s the idea,” said Hepp, who was working with Getz and Hurley on graphic elements of a game they agreed would be appealing to players of all ages.

    The weekend’s offerings also included engineering, silk-screening, and improvisational theater — all miniature versions of the summer Governor’s Institutes that are offered each year, according to Executive Director Karen Taylor Mitchell. She said the “Winter Weekends” give students a taste of GIV’s accelerated learning communities and delve into academic and artistic topics they care about.

    “Every student has something that he or she is passionate about,” Taylor Mitchell said. “Governor’s Institutes are where those passions turn into real-world skills and exciting career pathways.”

    Ben Demars, 17, a senior at People’s Academy in Morrisville and veteran of three “winter weekends and two summer institutes” was among those who spent the weekend making their own wearable art with the help of print artist Molly Greene.

    Demars said it wasn’t his first attempt at silk-screening, but he did learn how to make his own stencils and was pretty pleased with the result.

    Abi Huntsman, 15, a sophomore at Montpelier High School, said silk-screening was her top choice, but she was happy to spend the weekend working on her improvisational skills with New York Blue Man Group actor, Isaac Eddy.

    “Isaac’s amazing,” Huntsman said of Eddy, who taught an improvisational dance class she took as part of one of the summer institutes.

    “I knew this would be fun,” she added.

    On the engineering front, Anne Watson, who teaches physics at Montpelier High School, spent her weekend mentoring students who were tasked with the challenge of turning tin cans of all sizes into biomass stoves.

    Eli French, 16, of Calais, and Eli Pandolfo, 15, of Montpelier, both sophomores at U-32, teamed up with 15-year-old Champlain Valley Union High School freshman Justin Hameline in creating a rudimentary stove they said could be used to purify water.

    Using various sized tin cans, a little wire mesh and some combustible material, French said the stove worked, though it wasn’t quite as efficient as the team hoped.

    Justin Moran, 15, a freshman at Williamstown High School, used similar materials to produce a slightly different stove with a completely different purpose.

    Moran said his goal was to produce “biochar,” a carbon-rich charcoal that can be used as a soil amendment to make it more fertile.

    “It worked,” he said.

    Applications are now being accepted for this summer’s series of Governor’s Institutes. For more information about dates, course offerings, tuition and scholarship opportunities visit www.giv.org.

    david.delcore@timesargus.com

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