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Students make most of KAMS experience

4/11/2013

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

New and exciting educational opportunities drew Quentin Aker and Hayley Disney to Hays and away from their hometowns at age 16.

Are they ever taking advantage of those opportunities.

Aker and Disney, members of the 2013 graduating class of the Kansas Academy of Math and Science at Fort Hays State University, qualified for an international science competition by virtue of their second-place overall finish at last month's Kansas Engineering and Science Fair in Wichita.

Disney, who is from Topeka, and Aker, from Wichita, met the first day they came to KAMS in the fall of 2011 and became fast friends.

"The very first day we were here, we clicked," said Disney, who attended Washburn Rural her first two years of high school before coming to KAMS. "We knew pretty quickly that we wanted to do our senior research project together."

Their project -- which centered on the effects of drought on Kansas grass such as tall fescue, buffalo grass and Bermuda -- earned the duo a trip to the International Science and Engineering Fair on May 12 to 17 in Phoenix. Only the top two overall winners advance to the international event.

The duo also won the U.S. Army certificate and cash award and was one of six state finalists in the BioGenius competition, but didn't make the top two. But their water conservation project also was chosen as a state finalist for the U.S. Stockholm Junior Water Prize, which could earn them a trip to Portland, Ore., for the June competition if they are chosen as the top Kansas project.

KAMS classmate Libby Lewis from Lawrence also was a winner of one of the individual events, placing first in the chemistry competition, which helped her win the Yale Science & Engineering Association Award at the fair.

Both Aker and Disney are planning to continue their education at the University of Kansas next year, but they said they wouldn't trade their experiences at KAMS for anything.

"I felt like a number in a (Class) 6A school," said Disney, who plans to major in mechanical engineering at KU. "There are 26 or so in my KAMS class. We're really close knit; these are probably the best friends I've ever had, so that's exciting.

"Coming to KAMS was such a great opportunity. My resume is so much stronger than if I would have stayed (in Topeka)."

Aker, who attended Northeast Magnet School in Wichita through his sophomore year of high school, said, "I knew there were a lot of opportunities here that I couldn't take advantage in a normal high school setting."

Aker credits Fort Hays faculty for giving him those opportunities.

"Hayley and I would not have been able to do the research at the caliber we did if it weren't for college professors and grad students who have devoted their lives to this," he said.

Besides attending a lot of the same classes at FHSU, KAMS students live in Custer Hall.

"Here, we're surrounded by people who have the same passion and interests as us," Aker said. "Instead of just going to school together with them, you study with them and eat with them. You grow really close."

In addition to all the aforementioned opportunities and experiences, Aker also will get a chance to do something this summer he "couldn't have done in a normal high school setting " -- travel abroad with member of the FHSU modern language department to study in Germany.

Then, it's off to KU, where he will double major in finance and Spanish; he later plans to go to law school.

Aker said he received a brochure about KAMS in the mail his seventh-grade year and barely glanced at it before tossing it in the trash can in his bedroom.

"A day later, I saw the brochure in the trash and took it out and read it (more thoroughly)," he said. "I'm sure glad I did."