This six-part retrospective has been an opportunity for me to reflect not only on the three-decade history of the Belin-Blank Center, but also on my own professional trajectory in the field of gifted education and talent development, which spans the same time frame. Although no educator can pinpoint the exact date when his or her professional career began (was it during student teaching, when you had the class to yourself for the first time; when you signed your first contract; when you tested – by yourself – your first student; or when your defended your dissertation and the committee members refer to you as Dr.?), there is always a period in which you can look back and say that the journey was finally underway.
For me, that was 1988. With a newly minted University of Iowa PhD in hand, I headed east to Johns Hopkins University to start my post-doctoral fellowship with Professor Julian Stanley. Just a few weeks before I left Iowa City, the Iowa State Board of Regents had recognized the establishment of the Connie Belin National Center for Gifted Education. Today’s readers know that the Belin Center was renamed the Connie Belin & Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development. The expansion of the name (1995) also reflected the expansion of the Center’s services and programs.
In 1990, I applied, and was hired, for the Center’s very first professional position. I happily joined the small group (one director, one secretary, and a few graduate students) in 1990. I have been invested in the work of the Center ever since, becoming the Center’s director in December 2012, just as Phase VI commenced.
The years 2013-2018 were phenomenally productive, the reason being entirely because the Center has a collaborative team of professionals who administer the programs and provide the services. Every program has been elevated during the past five years and there are many new programs that have started.
Our oldest programming, for teachers, introduced the Chautauqua Series during the past few summers, infusing a strong sense of community among educators. Summer student programs now include the Perry Research Scholars Institute for 8th – 10th graders and the Summer Art and Writing Residency Programs for 9th – 11th graders.
The Perry Research Scholars Institute was made possible through an endowment from the Perry Family. A generous endowment from Mary Bucksbaum Scanlan and her husband, Patrick Scanlan, made possible the Bucksbaum Early Entrance Program that allows selected high school students to skip the last two years of high schools and begin the university as early as 10th grade.
A significant Talent Development Grant from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation established the STEM Excellence and Leadership Program, an after-school STEM enrichment program, in ten rural districts in Iowa. The results from that program led to the funding from the National Science Foundation for a deeper investigation of the informal learning environment provided by this program. The NSF grant was followed by a Javits grant that will allow us to increase the numbers of underrepresented students who are identified for gifted programming and implement a career exploration intervention.
Among all the growth in programming, we also hosted two Wallace Symposia (2014 and 2018). The 2014 Symposium was co-hosted with the National Association For Gifted Children in Washington DC and the 2018 was co-hosted with Vanderbilt and Johns Hopkins Universities in Baltimore, MD. We updated A Nation Deceived with a new two-volume publication A Nation Empowered: Evidence Trumps the Excuses Holding Back America’s Brightest Students and developed an online, above-level test for 4th – 6th graders, which can be used in schools and thus allow teachers to benefit from the information available through above-level testing. We also established a collaboration with the Iowa Neuroscience Institute (INI) to further our work with twice-exceptionality.
We celebrated three decades, and especially the past five years of inspiring potential and nurturing excellence, with an open house showcasing our innovative programs and featuring a special presentation by two Iowa Neuroscience Institute (INI) colleagues, Dr. Ted Abel, director of the INI, and Dr. Jake Michaelson, director of the UI Spark site. The collaboration with INI will greatly enhance our work with twice-exceptionality.
The past five years are a testament to the collaborative spirit exemplified by the staff. The growth over three decades, from a small group of professionals to a fully- functioning center has been phenomenal.
Hear our story in this special commemorative video.