I’ve just spent a fabulous three weeks at the Missouri Scholars Academy as a Resident Assistant. What is MSA? Lovingly referred to as “nerd camp,” MSA is an opportunity for gifted students across the state to learn from teachers, college students, and most importantly, each other. The scholars hail from a wide variety of backgrounds and have an even wider array of talents and interests. The really great thing about MSA is that there are others just like you that have similar talents and interests. No one has to worry about being the “smart kid,” because they are ALL the smart kids.
I was fortunate enough to be selected for MSA when I was a sophomore in high school. As a scholar, I tried to participate in as many activities and programs as I could. There was always some fascinating discussion on foreign film or a creative activity that I had never known existed. MSA was a time for me to explore my own “self” and what it meant to be me.
As an RA, I still get the opportunity for introspection, but it’s the scholars that continue to amaze me. Their enthusiasm for learning is a refreshing change of pace, especially now that I’ve hit that point in college where everyone seems to be dragging their feet with their studies. Scholars, though, have this wonderful attitude about what they want to do and the courage to try it. Obviously, not every scholar wants to try out a new subject or activity, and sometimes it can be really upsetting to go to a program in which you have no prior interest. My favorite part of the academy, though, is when those scholars come back from the program and talk about how awesome it was. MSA is about pushing your own boundaries and learning something new.
Each year, gifted education funding (and most education funding) gets shifted and there’s less to go around. When I attended MSA, it was fully funded by the state and other donors. Now, students have to pay a substantial activity fee to help offset the costs. The MSA community frequently works to increase funding for the program, whether that’s lobbying state legislators directly or donating the proceeds from an original EP by an alum.
When trying to share the experience of MSA with others, it can be difficult to get beyond the “it’s the most fun I’ve ever had.” What’s special about MSA is that it makes learning a fun challenge by creating an enriching environment for young students. MSA provides unique opportunities that a student from a small school may never get otherwise. They can work with professionals in their (current) chosen field, learn about a new educational path, or question their options altogether. MSA is about exploring, it just happens to be a really good time.