Emily Wagner of Cincinnati, (left to right) Josie Bartosz of Madison and Ashley Hieston of Jamestown listen to a presentation Tuesday during a criminal forensics class that is part of the High School Summer Academy at Hanover College. (Staff photos by Ken Ritchie)
Emily Wagner of Cincinnati, (left to right) Josie Bartosz of Madison and Ashley Hieston of Jamestown listen to a presentation Tuesday during a criminal forensics class that is part of the High School Summer Academy at Hanover College. (Staff photos by Ken Ritchie)
High school students might be an unlikely team of investigators to solve a murder, but 20 high school students did just that through simulated crime scenes during a week of classes in Hanover.

The students spent the past week learning about blood splatter patterns and what to look for at a crime scene during one of the eight summer institutes offered at Hanover College's High School Summer Academy.

Each of the eight programs offered students a chance to learn more about a topic that interested them or provided the chance for students to receive insight for a future career, program coordinator Jennifer Miller said. Daily activities at the Forensic Science Institute allowed students to attempt to solve a made-up murder, find the killer through crime scene analysis and interrogate possible witnesses.

High School Summer Academy participant Rachel Carter of Salem said she was looking for a summer program dealing with forensic science and discussed the institute with her teacher and counselors at school.

"We've done so many things that would be in real-life investigations," Carter said. "It's like the real deal."

Chemistry professor Craig Philipp has led the institute for four years, but this year's group was much larger.

"Usually it's only a single murder," Philipp said, but because of the interest in the institute, a triple-murder investigation took place through the week with the 20 students enrolled in the institute divided into three groups.

The program began with about two dozen students; the High School Summer Academy hosted 104 students from across the United States this year, Miller said.

"Most of (the students) are from the tri-state area," Miller said, but students from California, Nevada, Georgia and other states have attended the summer institutes over the years as well.

Some students have attended the summer institutes more than once, lead councilor Danielle Clark said. While Clark said she saw a few familiar faces from past years during the 2012 camp, students usually choose a different institute than the one they attended before.

Choosing a new program isn't an issue for students who may want to attend the camp more than once during their high school career. While some institutes return to the schedule from one year to the next, other institutes featured during the camp might change each year. New this year to the roster of summer classes was the Education Institute. Students gained an understanding of a career in education by preparing and teaching lesson plans and by interacting with the local community at the Madison branch of the Jefferson County Public Library. Another new institute this year included the Web Design Institute taught by Hanover's web development specialist Ben Stilson and Joe Lackner, director of web communications.

Breeana Chandler of Hanover said she chose the web design class because of her interest in pursuing graphic design as a possible career in college.

"We couldn't have gotten better instructors," the Madison Consolidated High School senior said. "They're really, really good at what they do."

The group spent the week learning how to build a web page from a blank page to an entire Internet website, she said. From HTML coding to CSS, the group learned about lots of aspects needed to build a website from the ground up.

Some of the institute programs included guest speakers from throughout the community during the week-long activities. Indiana Attorney Gen. Greg Zoeller spoke this week to a group of pre-law students about issues his office deals with, while students in the Environmental Science Institute had a chance to talk with a King's Daughters' Hospital pharmacist about the health care field. Hanover graduate Merritt Toomey, the Indiana State Police evidence technician and crime scene investigator for southern Indiana, talked to the Forensic Science Institute about his work in the field.

Other institutes included the Acting Institute, where students learned stage techniques and participated in sketches and short scenes, and the Environmental Science Institute, where students worked with biology professor Darrin Rubino to identify local flora and fauna and assessed the environmental quality of area creeks and streams.

In addition to the classroom experience and learning about possible careers in a variety of institutes offered this year, students who participated in the programs also experienced a little bit of college life by living on Hanover's campus during the week of camp.

Hanover College students and graduates served as camp counselors during the week and helped the high school students explore the campus through afternoon and evening activities that included campus golf, ghost story tours, a casino night, hikes along the trails on campus and an outdoor concert by the professors.

Guy Holloway, a student who attended the Psychology of Media Institute, said the program allowed him to interact directly with the professors and faculty. But the afternoon activities allowed the Louisville native to meet other people while exploring the campus, something that he looked forward to after previous visits to the campus.

"I made friends the first day I was here," he said.

Chandler also said that making friends was a highlight of her week, and that she learned a lot through the class that she hopes will help her when she attends college for graphic design and engineering.

The institute's main focus might be on careers and real-life applications, but professors also make a point to allow the youths to have fun and make connections with each another, Clark said.

Philipp agreed that the program allows students an interactive way to pursue possible careers, but the program also serves a larger purpose - it allows students to ask professors, faculty, current college students and guest speakers questions they might have about their own journey toward a post-secondary degree and career.

"We have (students) who want to be here and paid to be here," Philipp said. "And that's awesome."