U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, called Friday for a greater emphasis on education for gifted students after touring Western Kentucky University's Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science.
Paul said he was motivated to visit the recently renovated academy by ongoing conversations with the academy's Executive Director Julia Roberts that "we need to have quality education for the extraordinary students," he said.
"We need education for all students, but it seems like some of these kids that are the next generation of geniuses need a place to be," he said. "I think it was her vision and Western's that got this started."
Paul, who is up for re-election in November, declined to take political questions from reporters, saying he wanted to keep the focus on the Gatton Academy.
WKU completed renovations to the Gatton Academy over the summer, adding one wing to each side of the building to give it an E-shape. Each wing provides space for boys' and girls' dormitories, and the second floor great hall was also renovated. Gatton Academy spokesman Zack Ryle said the expansion allows the high school to accommodate 200 students total. However, because of budget cuts, the school will take up to 190 students next year. It currently has 160 Kentucky high school students.
The building was "pretty impressive" in Paul's view.
"The students showed us around," he said. "You can just tell they're ready for success."
Paul met with Gatton Academy seniors Sherafghan Khan from Hopkinsville and Dylan Daugherty from Madisonville.
Daugherty told Paul he was studying economics and Paul suggested books like Adam Smith's "The Wealth of Nations" and "The Law" by Frederic Bastiat.
Both seniors received a Gatton research internship grant.
"What that allows you to do is stay here or go somewhere else during the summer," Daugherty said. "I stayed here and worked on mutual fees and costs and that helped a little bit with fiduciary rulings this summer."
Khan worked on his own project where he studied Clostridium difficile. It's a germ that was estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to cause almost a half million infections in the United States in 2011, where 29,000 people died within 30 days of the initial diagnosis.
"We studied like how it affects cells, primarily its toxins," he said. "I also do chemistry research here at Gatton and do crystallography of anti-thyroid compounds."
Khan is interested in biology and chemistry and wants to go into neuroscience, he said.
The renovations are new to both seniors, who stayed in Bates Runner Hall last year.
"It's actually really nice to be with so many people," Khan said. "Last year there was only 60 seniors, 60 juniors, but now there's 100 juniors so we can meet more people."
Daugherty appreciates the water fountains on each floor, along with the ping pong and foosball tables.
"The little things that they made different in the expansion really just helps you grow not only as a person, but in the community too," he said.
Gatton Academy Director Lynette Breedlove said the $10 million renovation was made possible by a leading gift from Carol Martin "Bill" Gatton and other donors.
"We're really grateful that Mr. Gatton and the other donors made this renovation possible for us," Breedlove said.
Breedlove hopes Kentucky keeps funding the Gatton Academy: "So that Kentucky's exceptional students have opportunities for both their social (and) emotional needs to be met."
Paul agreed about the academy's importance.
"These are the kind of generation of leaders who I think we weren't necessarily giving an adequate education to," he said, remembering his own childhood where there wasn't enough to learn.
"Here I think they're challenging them to their fullest, and that's how we're gonna be able to compete worldwide and compete with other countries who are doing this as well," he said.
— Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.