Challenge to Excellence camp enters 20th year

By Gus Bode

Program features recreation, classes for gifted students

Factoid:For more information, contact SIUC’s Division of Continuing Education at 618/536-7751 or visit the website at and look under youth programs.

The quiet click of the keyboards was the only sound in the room. Four students had their eyes glued on their composition notebooks and left them only to type their stories on their computers.


This was the scene in a computer lab in the Wham Education Building, where an autobiographical writing course was being held. The course was not intended for college students or adults. It was one of several class choices for young gifted students in the annual Challenge to Excellence program.

Jilli Timmermann is one of the students who is attending the program to be with other kids, like her, who just want to learn. Timmermann is entering her eighth year of schooling at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Grade School, and this is her first time at this summer camp. She enjoys the atmosphere and the similar goals her fellow students have. Fellow camper Michael Lasley enthusiastically agreed, “This camp rocks!”

The Challenge to Excellence program was started in 1984 by former Vice Chancellor and current Board of Trustees member Glenn Poshard and Associate Dean for Teacher Education John McIntyre. The camp is a summer residential program for gifted students in the Midwest.

“They can feel good about themselves because there are others like them.” McIntyre said.

McIntyre, the director of the Challenge to Excellence program, and assistant director Debbi Joseph have worked hard to ensure the continued success of the program. With the help of Joseph, McIntyre and others involved, the program has taken place on campus for 20 years.

For the first two years, the program relied on grant money. Due to its expanding popularity, additional teachers and workers soon had to be added, creating a need to charge tuition.

Admission to this summer camp is on a competitive basis and very selective.


The applicant needs a recommendation from their school and must meet all guidelines for that school’s gifted programs. Admitted students’ standardized test scores fall into the 90 percent test range, and IQ scores are usually placed at120. McIntyre said the usual applicant places well above the standard, with average test scores around 98 percent and IQ scores averaging 135 and beyond.

The Challenge to Excellence program runs in two sessions. Session one took place from June 13 through June 18 and was geared towards seventh and eighth grade students. Session two runs from June 20 through June 27 and caters to ninth through 11th grade students.

Class instructors are experienced teachers or graduates students of SIUC. Most of these instructors and counselors have been involved with the program for many years. Interns are former campers who assist instructors and counselors in a variety of ways. Along with SIUC professors, high school teachers and middle school teachers from Carbondale and Paducah, Ky., are represented in the program.

The program offers classes in mathematics, science, drama, creative writing, art and debate, which the children choose based on their interests. Each course is one and a half hours long, and is aimed to enrich the experience they receive in school.

In some cases, the opportunity to use a computer is very limited for the children. As a result, computers are introduced in the curriculum. Some students come from more rural backgrounds, where they do not have computers in their schools, and this is a time for them to become familiar with them.

In addition to their classes, students go on tours around the campus to create career awareness and introduce them to the different aspects of SIUC. Academic attractions like the Lesar Law School, Communications Building, SIUC Museum and Student Recreation Center are frequented.

Campers can either stay on campus in residential housing or commute. Participants spend their time at night watching movies, going to the Student Recreation Center and enjoying the many activities provided by the staff.

Katie Johnson, a teaching instructor and former Challenge to Excellence camper, said she thinks there should be more of these camps available to children. She said she knows of students who come back year after year because they enjoy it so much.

“A lot of them are so beyond their grade level that when they come here, they’re normal,” Johnson said. “The kids tend to open up and find friends because it’s a level playing field.”

The camp creates a community between children. They find there are other children out there who have the same intelligence level and are going through the same experiences.

“Ninety percent of the students keep returning until they’re too old, and then they want to be interns or counselors,” McIntyre said.

McIntyre said the program is very valuable and has seen it grow up with the campers along the years.

“It occupies an important part of me, part of my heart, and the kids are really special.”