Message from the Director: Research in All of Its Forms

2013 is winding down, and we are gearing up for spring and summer 2014!  We are in the period known as the calm before the storm; nevertheless, a lot will occur before the spring semester begins, and you can read all about it in this issue of Vision.

Support for the Belin-Blank Center’s efforts in the STEM arena seems to be coming from multiple sources.  The December 2013 issue of the American Psychological Association (APA) Monitor (V.44, 1, p. 36-38) featured research conducted by several of our colleagues on the importance of specialized STEM experiences.  As stated on p. 36, “Among the study’s most significant findings: Students are more likely to stick with STEM education when they participate in research in high schools, get ongoing mentoring from STEM professionals, have a strong motivation for problem-solving or have a parent in a STEM field.”  The Belin-Blank Center is proud to support opportunities for these kinds of STEM experiences through the Secondary Student Training Program (SSTP) and the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS). We were especially excited to see that the research featured in the Monitor’s article was conducted by our close colleague, Dr. Rena Subotnik, Director of APA’s Center for Gifted Education Policy, and funded by the National Science Foundation.

You can hear Dr. Subotnik and several other featured speakers – Chester Finn, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and Nick Colangelo, UI College of Education dean – at the 11th Wallace Research & Policy Symposium on Talent Development.  In total we will have seven keynote/featured speakers, nine invited presentations, and several dozen concurrent presentations.  The symposium, held in collaboration with the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), will be especially practitioner-friendly this year, with single-day registration available as well as special sessions that focus on the interplay of research, policy, and best practice in gifted education.  We encourage you to register early for the symposium so that you can get the early-bird registration discount and be assured a sleeping room in the symposium hotel.

Just as I was putting the finishing touches on my “Director’s Message,” the editorial, “Even Gifted Students Can’t Keep Up” by the New York Times Editorial Board came across my email.  The editorial elevates many of the issues that confront gifted education and gifted students today including the impact of the absence of federal funding and leadership as well as inconsistencies of programming by states. While these are issues familiar to professionals in the field of gifted education, they are not commonly addressed by educators in general as well as the public.

Furthermore, the New York Times editorial specified the importance of special programming and interventions needed by gifted (advanced) students such as online AP classes for rural areas, college-level experiences while still in high school, and early entrance to college. The substance of the editorial aligns well with some of the programs already at the Belin-Blank Center. The Iowa Online Advanced Placement Academy was specifically developed to offer AP opportunities to the many rural schools in Iowa. SSTP provides very high-ability high school students with intense and high-level college experiences while they remain in high school. And the National Academy of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering (NAASE) is a successful early entrance program founded on the premise and research support that there are some students in our high schools that have the ability, motivation, and maturity to begin college (in this case, the University of Iowa) early rather than spending senior year symbolically treading water.

The New York Times editorial came just a few days after University of Iowa President Sally Mason presented her strategic initiatives as part of Governor Branstad’s open hearings at the capitol in Des Moines, IA.  As mentioned in the UI Hawkeye Caucus Newsletter, “the UI proposal would launch a STEM residential academy on campus that allows Iowa’s high-ability STEM students to complete their final two years of high school simultaneously in their first two years at the UI. This will allow these high achieving students the opportunity to graduate from the UI two years earlier while giving them a leg up on their future.”

As we wrap up 2013, I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that a full year has passed by since I became the director of the Belin-Blank Center.  What a wonderful privilege it is to work with the fantastic Center staff and faculty.  Each and every one of them makes a special contribution to the Center to ensure that the programs for students and teachers are top-notch. I also thank the University of Iowa’s central administration for their enduring support and commitment to the Center, as well as the members of our advisory board.  They are generous in their advice and private giving, and both groups are an inspiration. It was a great 2013 and 2014 holds much promise.  Stay tuned!

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