After middle school student Morgan Crowe peered into a microscope at Western Kentucky University on Wednesday, she looked up from the lens with a smile and said, “Cool!”

Morgan, an eighth-grader at Casey County Middle School, was one of more than 600 middle and high school students who attended the IdeaFestival sponsored by WKU’s Center for Gifted Studies.

“It’s been really cool because it’s a bunch of people that like the same things that I do,” Morgan said of the event, adding it encouraged her interests in math and science. “It showed me that I really do like stuff like this and that there’s different aspects that I never thought of.”

Erika Solberg, the special programs coordinator with the Center for Gifted Studies, said students from 22 schools across 13 counties attended the event, which is in its fourth year. After a morning of inspirational talks from young creative professionals in the Downing Student Union, students made their way between tables featuring virtual reality technology, 3-D printing pens, poetry, computer coding lessons, mural painting and space for working on small tech projects.

“It’s really about helping them figure out what their passions are,” Solberg said of the festival.

Along with discovering their interests, students also got an education on the dangers of texting while driving through virtual reality technology provided by AT&T.

Through the simulation, the person experiences being a driver constantly distracted by their beeping cellphone as they narrowly avoid striking bicyclists, other vehicles and a baby stroller before ultimately being killed in a crash.

“We want to hammer home that there’s simply nothing worth dying for with your phone behind the wheel,” said Hank Mangeot, AT&T’s regional director of external and legislative affairs. “We want it to be impactful, and I hope it is.”

Sarah Nuse offered students help on their improvised business pitches. Nuse, the CEO of Tippi Toes Dance Company, showcased her business on ABC’s “Shark Tank,” a television show in which lucrative entrepreneurs invest in budding businesses.

Nuse asked students to draw two words out of a bucket and combine them into a business idea they can pitch to her. Nuse said she was impressed with the students’ creativity and said the activity takes confidence, thinking on their feet and outside the box.

“If you are personable and passionate about what you’re doing then it draws people in,” she said, seeking to pass that lesson on to students.

In a room for working on small projects, called a makerspace, groups of boys gathered around a vintage video game powered by a small, single-board computer called a Raspberry Pi 3. Ben Hibben, with the Louisville-based LVL1 Hackerspace, stood by to explain the technology, which he said is affordable enough to experiment with.

“This encourages kids to be creative and do things with it because if they break it it’s no big deal,” he said.

At another station, students crowded around tables as they waited to draw with 3-D pens.

Tyson Le, a seventh-grader at Henry F. Moss Middle School, described the attractions as “diverse” and generating “lots of ideas.”

Grace Watwood, a senior at Franklin-Simpson High School, drew the first letters of her and her boyfriend’s name. Watwood said she enjoyed the festival’s speakers.

“I love how you can listen to speakers and their points of view on so many different things,” she said. “You can draw a lot of inspiration from them.”

Watwood said she was inspired by an author who struggled to sell a first book but later climbed the best-seller list on Amazon.

“In order to succeed you’re going to be rejected,” she said, adding she also wants to be a writer. “You have to lose to win.”

– Follow Education Reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or at


Education reporter. Covers education and related issues, focusing primarily on the Bowling Green and Warren County public school districts and Western Kentucky University.

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