Bringing the State's Brightest to SUU

Published: July 15, 2013 | Read Time: 3 minutes

In 1989 SUU hosted 50 students from across the state at, then, governor Norman H. Bangerter's request to help jump-start promising young students into higher education. Now, 25 years later, SUU continues to serve as host to this prestigious academic development program, introducing more than 1,250 students over the years to their first dose of college life through the Governor's Honors Academy (GHA).

With an average GPA of 3.8 for students who have come through GHA and just 50 spots to fill each year, GHA is known across the state as a unique and highly competitive opportunity for Utah's brightest high school students. Admission into the program is based not only on academic performance but also on a student's record of service and community engagement, and the 2013 cohort who will mark GHA's 25th year are representative of the great promise and accomplishment among GHA students year after year.

In short, GHA is a nine-day college-level camp for standout students to give them an accelerated academic experience, each one learning how to propel themselves in a world of changing priorities, technologies, economics and politics.

True to Governor Bangerter's initial vision to propel the next generation of leaders, 2012 GHA attendee Preston Sonntag said his experience at last year's GHA changed his perspective and plans for his education. “All the activities and events taught me that I really can make a difference in the world."

"To top it off," he added, "it was the most fun I have ever had.”

Sonntag's experience is common among GHA alumni, who attend the SUU-based program the summer between their junior and senior years of high school.  Administrators of the program and academic advisors of the returning high school students attribute GHA's longevity and success to events that are designed to target the students' current interests and ambitions while simultaneously challenging each student to think bigger and take confidence in all they have an will yet accomplish.

“This Academy is a chance for these bright students to get out of their comfort zone, learn from students that hail from every corner of the state and create memories that are truly magical,” said Nicole Funderburk, previous GHA counselor and director and now SUU graduate program coordinator. “Our goal is to create life-changing moments for our GHA students.”

In this endeavor, the University pulls out all the stops, bringing in top-level politicians, entrepreneurs, authors, professors, and other compelling professionals who have made it big. This year, that list includes a former astronaut, climatologist, musician, Catholic priest and a Tibetan monk, again, aiming to show these young scholars just how broad their opportunities truly are.

On top of hearing from many of the state’s most prestigious professionals, GHA students attend a play at the Tony Award winning Utah Shakespeare Festival, visit several national parks and interact in group sessions that promote leadership and awareness.

“When you attend GHA, you’re at this stage in your life where every option lies before you, and GHA gives you confidence that all are obtainable," explained  former GHA attendee Bailey Bowthorpe, who is now in her senior year at SUU and will join in GHA's formal 25th anniversary celebration. She said the confidence and perspective gained through GHA is what makes the program so successful.

To commemorate the many successes over the past 25 years, all GHA alumni are invited to join the celebration for dinner and entertainment as the University recognizes GHA’s Founding Fathers, Bangerter and then SUSC President Gerald R. Sherratt, who will both be in attendance.

Funderburk, who is coordinating the 25th anniversary celebration, said of the event, “A lot can happen in the years since someone attended GHA, but no matter what one has done since, that summer was still a life changing event. It should be a great evening spent sharing memories and rekindling the flame that burned so brilliantly after attending GHA.”

Celebrating the Legacy: 25 Years of GHA will take place Friday, July 19, at 5 p.m. in the Student Center Ballroom. Those GHA alumni who wish to attend can request tickets at

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