The Lessner family has made Governor’s School a recurring tradition beginning with the first Delaware Governor’s School in 1979. Pictured are (from left) Jodi Lessner, Martin Lessner and Sabrina Lessner, sharing their Governor’s School memorabilia.

'Unique opportunity'

Governor's School for Excellence celebrates 35 years at UD

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12:34 p.m., Aug. 13, 2014--Every summer for 35 years running, the Delaware Governor’s School for Excellence has hosted some of the state’s brightest high school students for a week of immersion in the arts and academic pursuits on the University of Delaware’s Newark campus. 

“For more than three decades the Governor's School for Excellence has provided rising high school juniors with a unique opportunity to hone their talents and learn from their peers across the state,” said Delaware Gov. Jack Markell in a statement noting the anniversary. “As the global job market becomes increasingly competitive, this program provides students with an early advantage that will better prepare them to compete for jobs of the future.”

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This year, 131 Delaware high school students attended Governor’s School, nominated to participate through their schools in a competitive application process. 

Among them was Jodi Lessner of Wilmington Friends School, whose family has made Governor’s School a recurring tradition spanning all 35 years, beginning with the inaugural Delaware Governor’s School in 1979.

First in the Lessner family to attend was Jodi’s father Martin Lessner, then a Claymont High School student selected for the first Delaware Governor’s School in 1979, and mother Lisa Lessner representing Concord High School in 1980. Sister Sabrina, now a UD environmental science major and UD Marching Band member, attended Governor’s School in 2009 in the instrumental track.

“Spending a full week with a group of really bright and talented kids from around the state was transforming,” said Martin Lessner. “I learned much from the professors and guests, including elected officials, as well as fellow students.” 

Added Lisa Lessner, “I had a fantastic experience at Governor's School, and I felt so honored to represent my school. The highlight for me was getting to meet so many smart, motivated and talented kids from all over Delaware.”

The Marianiellos of Newark have also made the Governor’s School experience into a family affair. Every few summers since 2005, each one of the four Marianiello siblings has represented Newark High School at Governor’s School. 

Oldest brother Leo, now a math teacher and UD alum, is currently pursuing graduate study at UD. Andre Marianiello is now a UD computer science major, and sister Vanessa is joining UD’s freshman class in the School of Nursing this fall. Youngest sibling Sophia attended Governor’s School this year. 

Commented their mother, Lucy Marianiello, “Governor’s School was a great opportunity for each of them to meet a large group of high-achieving students from other high schools in Delaware and to experience life on a college campus. Not only was it an experience to share with students their own age, but an experience to share with each other." 

Experiencing academic diversity

This year’s Governor’s School featured a wide array of cultural and academic sessions, including the specialized tracks where students concentrated on music, theatre or visual arts. 

A night of Chinese culture presented by UD’s Confucius Institute introduced the students to the music, art, food and culture of China, and received enthusiastic reviews from many participants. Art students visited the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts for a private tour, meeting with several artists whose work is displayed there.

Field trips exposed the students to UD research in topics like cybersecurity, biomedical engineering, biomechanics, and marine ecology, where the participants have the opportunity to learn directly from UD faculty and current students. The week also included a hands-on session at UD’s Lerner Trading Center, which replicates the trading floors on Wall Street for real-world business and economics research. 

Another perennial favorite is a talk by UD’s Lloyd Shorter, who presented on censorship in music lyrics. Shorter, an assistant professor of music, currently coordinates the Governor’s School music program, and has been involved with Governor’s School through the tenure of five Delaware governors. 

Nearly every Governor’s School has featured an activity with the sitting governor. This year, Markell visited the students in the academic track who were participating in a session on global economics. 

After some brief remarks about international relations, Markell opened the rest of his talk to student questions, which ranged from standardized state testing programs and issues of employment and quality of life in Delaware, to how the governor began his career in public service.

Friendship and memories

A highlight most singled out by Governor’s School participants is the opportunity to meet and make friends with fellow students from all over Delaware. “I had a fantastic experience at Governor's School,” said 2014 Governor’s School student Jodi Lessner. “It was an incredible opportunity to take lots of classes that are generally outside of the high school spectrum, and learn about topics in unique ways. Besides the classes, it was a great way to meet tons of dedicated and motivated high school students throughout Delaware who are going to go on to do great things in the future.”

In 2012, the students shared another special bond when longtime Governor’s School resident assistant (RA) coordinators Blayze Lewis and Allison Eliason became engaged after Lewis’ marriage proposal in front of all the students and their families at the Governor’s School closing assembly. 

Both UD alums, Lewis and Eliason met while leading the Governor’s School RA team, Lewis since 2003, Eliason since 2008. “The Governor’s School program obviously means a lot to Blayze and me,” said Allison Lewis. “It meant so much that he chose to share that moment at Governor's School since that's where we've shared so many years together coordinating the program.” They were married last year, and this year again served as lead RAs.

Added Lewis, “It’s so fantastic that the Governor's Office continues to support this program because I see, year after year, all of the knowledge, memories, and friends that the students take away. I'm positive that if you were to ask any of them about their experience at Governor's School they would say it was one of the best times of their lives!”

A long-standing partnership

For 35 years, the Governor’s School program has been sponsored by the Office of the Governor of the state of Delaware in cooperation with the Delaware Department of Education and the UD’s Division of Professional and Continuing Studies. 

“The Division of Professional and Continuing Studies is honored to work with the Office of the Governor on this program,” said Associate Vice Provost Jim Broomall. “Putting ‘Delaware First,’ the division works in partnership with the academic community to serve learners across the lifespan. Governor's School provides a signal opportunity to demonstrate to academically and artistically talented students the rich resources of Delaware's flagship university. A 35-year anniversary is a fitting time to reflect on this program's tradition of excellence.”

Added UD President Patrick Harker, “Governor's School for Excellence is a terrific program acquainting accomplished First State students with the nationally competitive University that's right in their own backyard. One of UD's strategic priorities is to develop the next generation of Delaware talent and Delaware leadership. That's what the Governor's School is all about.”

Visit the website for more photos of this year’s Governor’s School.

Article by Nora Riehl Zelluk

Photos by Kathy Atkinson and Evan Krape

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