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Shelby County High School sophomores Nolan Hughes and Emma Saarinen have made history, but at the rate they’re going it may not be the last time.
Hughes and Saarinen have been selected to join the Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science at Western Kentucky University, and it is the first time that two Shelby County students were selected in the same year.
“It’s really a great opportunity to be with other students who share a passion for math and science that you do, have the same interests as you do,” said Saarinen, who’s brother Sam Saarinen also attended the Gatton Academy. “And they don’t think it’s weird when you say that Fibonacci [an Italian mathematician] is just as good as Gucci.”
The two applied in the fall 2013 with 290 sophomores across the state. The academy then uses students’ ACT scores, high school grades, participation in extracurricular activities, awards, essay responses to select 110 student to interview.
Out of the students interviewed, Saarinen and Hughes were selected to join the 59-student class of 2016.
The academy offers high school students a chance to experience college campus life with no cost for housing, tuition or meals. But for Hughes, the greatest benefit is exploring his interests and doing research.
“I’m like the strange math person who loves music,” Hughes said. “There are so many opportunities there. They have lots of research with professors and staff at the college. That’s one of things you can’t get at Shelby County. We are both in engineering now and that is something that is growing. I love our engineering program and that’s kind of what I want to do.”
The chance to focus more on mathematics is what drew Saarinen to the school.
“I think math is beautiful, the order of it, and just how there is always a reason for things,” Saarinen said. “I want to go somewhere where I can learn more about it. I’ve always loved learning about anything — that’s just how my parents raised me. In the seventh grade, Mrs. Whitis [a math teacher at East Middle School] asked a team with me and Nolan on it, to do math counts. We went to a state competition that year. Getting to work with other people who just loved math ( at the competition) too — one-on-one — I felt like they were my people, they understood me. That is what really ignited my love for math.”
Saarinen said she hopes to work as a math professor after college, specializing in number theory.
“It’s not the most practical of math subjects. It’s sort of abstract,” Saarinen said. “Number theory is defined as the relation of integers and numbers. It’s really seeing what numbers are made of and how they relate to each other and react in a system together.”
Hughes said he is hoping to build on the engineering program courses he’s taken at SCHS.
“It’s something I want to look further into,” Hughes said. “Math has always been what I am really good at. I was never really good at English, but I’m strong in math. As I came to high school, I was able to go into engineering. One of our math teachers, Mr. Siemen, really helped us. We’ve reached a limit here and that’s why we want to go to Gatton. Mechanical Engineering is one thing I’m interested, and they offer architecture research. That’s something I don’t have experience in.”
Hughes also wants to explore music composition. He started writing music in the eighth grade.
“Ms. Oerther, our music teacher, got me started in that and actually played one of my pieces for a concert,” Hughes said. “It’s more modern style. We [Hughes and Saarinen] are in AP music theory now. I’ve written a couple piano songs and arrangements for pep band. My dad got me started in music, playing the trumpet in the fifth grade. I now play the French horn too in marching band, concert band and pep band.”
For Shelby County High School Principal Eddie Oakley, the opportunity for the students to learn and experience new things reflects the success of the county’s public school system.
“This is about Shelby County schools in general — where we are going and what is happening here,” Oakley said. “It’s about the growth being made with our kids in this community. The whole community should be proud of where we are going.”
Hughes and Saarinen will join a list of three other Shelby County High School students who have attended the academy: Katherine Goebel, Chris Obermeyer and Saarinen’s brother.
Students selected for the Gatton Academy scored an average composite of 30.4 on the ACT with a 30.1 on the mathematics portion of the test.
Hughes and Saarinen will attend the academy starting next in the 2014-15 school year, living in Schneider Hall on Western Kentucky University’s campus and will have the opportunity to graduate with about 60 college credit hours.