Georgetown student rises to academic challenges

 

Gavin ValdezBe assured, this is a good thing. TAMSters, while not endangered, are rare, with fewer than 400 in the great state of Texas. They were first identified in 1987 and range throughout the state, although they are most often found in the Denton area. TAMSters are almost always competitive, focused, motivated, and self-disciplined. They are quite intelligent and respond well to challenges.

Meet Gavin Valdez, currently Georgetown’s only representative in the Texas Academy of Math and Science (TAMS), an academically rigorous “school within a school” on the University of North Texas (UNT) campus. If he weren’t a TAMSter, Gavin would now be completing his junior year at Georgetown High. Instead, through this challenging program, he lived in McConnell dorm among other like-minded teenagers, took classes from accredited college professors, and earned over thirty hours of credit. Next fall, he will return to TAMS to earn both his high school diploma and another 30+ hours of college credits by May, 2014.

TAMS students take college courses, such as political science, English, biology, chemistry, and pre-calculus, applicable toward most degrees, and have opportunities to conduct research with faculty. Although TAMS is a tightly-knit community, only the biology class is taught exclusively to that group; other classes include interaction with regular college students. When Gavin entered TAMS last fall, he was one of only 207 juniors selected from around Texas. Gavin’s mother, Roxanne Valdez, commented, “It’s a good program. I wish that more kids knew about it and that other Texas colleges would get in line and do something like TAMS.”

The Valdez family learned about TAMS after Gavin took the ACT test through Duke University’s Talent Identification Program at the end of seventh grade. Because he earned State Recognition, they were inundated with enticing brochures from high-dollar, private high schools, mostly in the Northeast and Colorado. Roxanne “couldn’t get her head around $50,000 tuition,” so she investigated other opportunities to challenge her son. A better option, TAMS, came up. “I’m thankful I spent the time looking,” she says. “It’s important for parents to know there are resources out there. We pay room and board, tuition and fees are covered by the state, he’s not so far away, and the investment is really worth it.”

After applying, Gavin went through multiple application steps before being selected: college boards, special TAMS qualifying tests, recommendations from Georgetown teachers and other adults, and a small-group interview. TAMS saw his potential, just as numerous Georgetown teachers did.

Naturally, his parents had concerns about Gavin leaving the nest at sixteen, just as his older sister left home for Tarleton State University. However, they trusted his values and commitment to learning.

Gavin has always been a strong student, reading widely, filled with curiosity, and asking questions. He participated in gifted/talented classes throughout his Georgetown schooling, honing math skills through UIL competitions. Hoping to study engineering at the U.S. Naval Academy after TAMS, Gavin has applied there for a sample 2013 summer session.

The Valdezes have been reassured by appropriate rules and support offered by residence advisors and counselors to help TAMS “collegians” transition easily to living away from home. Gavin’s RA told Roxanne that Gavin is a good role model because “he actually has a life,” hanging out with friends, participating in sports, and occasionally playing the violin. There’s balance with the books. Gavin comes home one weekend a month, commenting that “MS” in TAMS means “minimal sleep.” He acknowledges that there have been adjustments, such as “living with all my classmates and learning to balance my time.” But he also says, “I’m dead certain that this is the path I was meant to be on, and I don’t have any second thoughts about my choice. It’s interesting that we are, indeed, all kids . . . thrust into a more mature environment where we are expected to grow up or go home. We all find coping methods . . . and we quickly adapt while not losing ourselves along the way.”

The TAMS program definitely creates strong futures for its students. Last year’s senior class garnered over $10,000,000 in scholarship offers, and TAMSters compete successfully to get into top universities of their choice. News articles often lament that many students in the United States are slipping in math and science studies compared to students in other nations, but TAMS does its part to strengthen students’ performance in these fields.

Gavin enjoys the beauty of UNT’s campus, the freedom, and his personal opportunities for the future. He says of his professors, “They’re so smart that it’s just mind-blowing.” For his peer group, Gavin offers some succinct wisdom: “If you are talented in math and science, never, ever, ever assume that you have learned everything that you can. There is always something new to be learned, especially with the rate of technological progression these days . . . never settle for the bare minimum.”

So Gavin Valdez embraces the academically challenging world of TAMS, and perhaps other Georgetown students will follow him confidently into the future, choosing to seek out programs, here and elsewhere, suited to their talents and hopes.


Learn more about the TAMS program at tams.unt.edu.

Georgetown’s First TAMSter
Former Georgetown High student Jeff Cady graduated from TAMS in 2011 and is now majoring in physics at Princeton University, where he works as a research assistant in the lab of a physics professor conducting quantum computing research. After graduation, he intends to pursue a doctorate in physics and a career in quantum computing. “TAMS was an excellent academic experience,” Jeff says, “that both challenged me and allowed me to fully explore my interest in the sciences.”

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