The Crittenden County High School senior and lifelong Kentucky resident attends Gatton Academy in conjunction with Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green. The lifelong learner began his thirst for knowledge at a young age and was put into a summer reading program at a local library at age 1.
“I’ve always had a desire to learn but as I’ve gotten older, it’s gotten more specific to exactly what I want to do,” he said.
Hughes, son of Crittenden County High School special education teacher Millie Woods, is the Mid-Continent University Teen of the Week. Hughes is surrounded by a zeal for learning with his mother working in the school system, his brother Wesley Hughes employed at Murray State University and his sister Cathy Hughes currently attending Berea College in Berea.
Each Monday, the Sun features a different MCU Teen of the Week selected from nominees guidance counselors throughout western Kentucky and southern Illinois submitted to the Sun.
Mid-Continent University will provide each Teen of the Week with a $2,500 annual scholarship to its university, which is renewable for four years.
In the spring, a Teen of the Year will be chosen from the weekly winners. The Teen of the Year is eligible for a full four-year scholarship to Mid-Continent University or a cash award of $2,500, paid through the Paducah Sun, if the student selects another college to attend.
While at Crittenden County High School, Hughes was active in the chess club, frequently traveling and winning competitions across the state. He also participated in fundraisers for the Ecology Club, was a member of the speech team, served as freshman treasurer for the student council and played the trumpet in the marching band.
He remembers the strong bond between band members fostered traveling back from band competitions, win or lose, as some of his fondest high school memories.
“Whether you did well or just horrendous, we were all stuck in the same thing,” he said. “Either we were sad about losing or singing all the way back after winning; it always ended on a positive note.”
While at Gatton Academy, he helped to start the GALE or Gatton Academy Leadership in Education tutoring and enrichment program, modeled after a program that provides access to laptops for skilled elementary school students.
The GALE program provides free tutoring for elementary students around Bowling Green.
Hughes, who is currently serving as the organization’s president, said beginning the club was a learning experience.
“I learned you have to be flexible with your vision and open to change ... because if you can accept it, the result will be better than you could have imagined,” he said.
In his free time, Hughes said he enjoys reading, riding his bicycle and playing the piano. But his favorite extracurricular activity is one he hopes to become his future profession: research.
The 4.0 grade-point average student said he enjoys waking up for his 8 a.m. physics class because he is learning more about the subject he is passionate about.
Hughes includes astronomy and mathematics as his other favorite classes.
But he doesn’t limit himself to one type of subject matter and took two religious studies discussion-style classes to broaden his intellectual mindset.
Hughes is anticipating a senior year filled with research including presenting papers at three conferences in Kentucky and at the American Astrological Society Conference in Washington, D.C. He has also traveled abroad extensively to Germany, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary with the high school’s Horizons Club and to England through a class at Western Kentucky University.
The busy student has already submitted early action college applications through the QuestBridge program, which partners with 35 colleges to match students and universities. Hughes said several of his top choices are Amherst College in Amherst, Mass., and Williams College in Williamstown, Mass. After college, he plans to work toward a Ph.D. and become a full-time astronomy researcher through an observatory or a professorship.
His time away from family and friends at Gatton Academy has prepared Hughes well for his next educational steps.
“Once I adjusted to only seeing my family once a month, it was easy to make friends (at Gatton Academy) through a similar learning passion and a mindset of how to view work,” Hughes said.
Contact Kathleen Fox, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8651 or follow @kathleendfox on Twitter.