Category Archives: Message from the Director

Message From the Director: How Did We Get From 1988 to 2018? Phase VI (2013-2018)

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.

BBC Staff 1997

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.

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Belin-Blank Center faculty and staff

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.

Wallace_Group3.jpgAmong 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.

Director’s Message: How Did We Get From 1988 to 2018? Phase V (2008-2013)

It’s August and the start of a new school year in the Northern Hemisphere.  As I’ve written before, new beginnings are both energizing and daunting.  The first 20 years of the Belin-Blank Center resulted in several programs, services, and events that brought us to this point.  Much has happened; yet, there is more to do.

This sentiment captures the state of the Center as we entered Phase V (2008 – 2013) of our 30-year anniversary retrospective.

Not every year has a theme, but 2008 did, and The Time is Now seemed perfect as we marked our 20th anniversary.  All of our programs were mature and strong and we were able to add new opportunities, services, and student programs.

In 2008, we hosted the 9th Wallace Research Symposium.  It was extra special that year because we brought in 79 international educators from 44 countries Originally, we believed that we were bringing international educators to the University of Iowa to enhance their experience.  We quickly learned that, although they were very enthusiastic about the opportunity, it was we who benefitted the most through the increased diversity and the broadening of our perspectives.  To this day, we have maintained our connections with these international educators, having most recently visited with a few during the August 2018 European Council for High Ability Conference in Dublin, Ireland.

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A few months later, we welcomed our first group of China Scholars, which expanded a few years later to include students from Hong Kong.  From 2008 – 2017, we welcomed multiple cohorts of high school students from China or Hong Kong, several of whom eventually attended and graduated from the University of Iowa.

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The year 2008 also brought devastating floods to Iowa, and the UI campus, in particular, where more than $1 billion dollars in damages were sustained.  Still, the Center – indeed, the entire university — continued to serve students and educators and to strengthen our research agenda throughout this trying time.

The early part of Phase V, saw additional resources added to the Acceleration Institute, which features two seminal reports on academic acceleration (A Nation Deceived and its follow-up report, A Nation Empowered) , access to the Iowa Acceleration Scale (published in 2009) and a free download of Guidelines for Establishing Academic Acceleration Policies (also published in 2009).  Both publications are scheduled for an update in 2019.

Our student programs took on a new dimension in 2011, when we were invited to be the administrative home for the Junior Science Humanities Symposium (JSHS) and the Secondary Student Training Program (SSTP).  In particular, SSTP would become the model for future summer residential pre-college programs that include  UI credit-bearing courses.

In 2012, we co-hosted, with the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), a special summit related to policy on academic acceleration.  This was such a successful event that it precipitated additional co-hosting of events. Specifically, we have since co-hosted the Wallace Symposium with NAGC (2014) and with Johns Hopkins and Vanderbilt University (2018).

The final years of Phase V were important transition years with the Center’s founding director, Dr. Nicholas Colangelo, retiring in mid-December 2012.  I was honored to become the second director of the Belin-Blank Center and to continue to build our programs and services with the superb team of professionals who comprise the Center.

Belin-Blank Center Advisory Board Dinner 10/25/2012

Phase VI, the final chapter in this 30-year retrospective, is characterized by additional growth, as always, built upon the foundation established by philanthropists and co-founders, Myron and Jacqueline Blank and David and Connie Belin, and enhanced through the Center’s amazing staff and faculty. Stay tuned for our October newsletter, where I am pleased to be sharing all the recent work we have been doing to move into the next 30 years of nurturing potential and inspiring excellence in talented students.

Message From the Director: How Did We Get From 1988-2018? Phase IV (2003-2008)

Phase IV of this retrospective collection of director’s messages began a mere 15 years ago – halfway into the 30 years we are commemorating – yet the closer we get to “now” the more nostalgic I feel.  This is especially true as I reflect upon this five-year period.

The Belin-Blank Center has always been a part of the College of Education, but our home is in a building named in honor of Myron and Jacqueline Blank, who provided the lead gift for the building.  We had a wonderful ribbon-cutting ceremony in the fall of 2003 and moved into the Blank Honors Center on one of the coldest days in January of 2004.

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It was joy to have Myron Blank participate in this important milestone. Indeed, we honor our founding families each day through our programs and service for young students and their educators.

What an eventful year 2004 was!  In addition to the move into a brand new building, we published the watershed report, A Nation Deceived:  How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students, which Time magazine launched with a major story about academic acceleration as the most effective but least used academic intervention.

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The momentum from 2004 resulted in the next several years being similarly active.  However, one of those years, 2005, was also a year of significant loss.  Myron Blank passed away in early 2005.  He and Jacqueline left an indelible imprint on gifted  education through their generosity and vision.

A few months later, Julian Stanley, founder of the Talent Search Model, passed away.  At the 2018 Wallace Research Symposium, we honored Professor Stanley’s legacy.  You can learn more about Dr. Stanley’s seven-decade career and the impact on the center and around the world by watching the video created for the occasion.

The Phase IV years, 2003-2008, flew by with special events for students and teachers.

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By 2008, we were well on our way to Phases V and VI.

Message from the Director: How Did We Get From 1988 to 2018? Phase III (1998-2003)

The inspirational view of the UI campus from my sixth floor office window lends itself to reflecting on the past while concentrating on the important events scheduled over the next two months.

Blank Honors Center

Back in spring 1998, we would have been ensconced in preparations for Invent Iowa, one of the Center’s major spring events.

Invent Iowa

Young Iowans are still inventing and this year’s convention featured innovations from students across the state.

Then, we were also making preparations for our very first Advisory Board Meeting.

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Now, we are focused on the Center’s 30th anniversary, which we will celebrate during the 2018 Annual Advisory Board Meeting.  (We will have more about commemorating 30 years over the next couple of newsletter messages.)

In 1998, we hosted our 4th Wallace Research Symposium; today, we are counting down the days to the 2018 Symposium at the end of this month.  The 2018 Wallace Symposium honors the legacy of Julian C. Stanley, founder of the Talent Search Model and promises to be an amazing opportunity for all who will be able to participate.  Thanks to an agreement with the University of Iowa’s Division of Continuing Education, we will be video-taping all of the plenary sessions so that we can create a course that will be available to current and future educators.

Other highlights of our Phase III time period included welcoming the first class of our early entrance-to-university program, now the Bucksbaum Early Entrance Academy, along with the development and launch of the Iowa Online Advanced Placement Academy (IOAPA).

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Then, and now, Professional Development is at the core of our programming.  Having grown from just a few courses focused on teacher training in the very early days, to a full-blown professional development program that includes the State of Iowa Talented and Gifted Endorsement and coursework available online, makes our programming accessible around the world.

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The summer of 2003 would be the last summer that we conducted professional development programming or student programming outside of the Blank Honors Center.  Indeed, the year 2003 culminated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in the late fall and we moved in to our new home in January 2004.

Our industrious summer program participants created a mural for the protective wall at the Blank Honors Center building site.

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We presented a photo of the mural to Myron Blank, one of our founders, at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

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Stay tuned for Phase IV in June!

Message From the Director: How Did We Get From 1988 to 2018? Phase II (1993-1998)

I find it uncanny how the latter half (1993-1998) of the center’s first decade forecast the present.  In 1993, we hosted the 2nd H. B. & Jocelyn Wallace Research Symposium, which foretold the 12th Wallace Research Symposium.  By 1993, the Wallace Symposium was established as the premier research conference in gifted education and talent development.  The 2018 Wallace Symposium will be co-hosted by the University of Iowa Belin-Blank Center, Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, and Vanderbilt University Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth.  The specialized topic for the 12th symposium is honoring the legacy of Julian Stanley, founder of the Talent Search Model.  Indeed, it was my training as a postdoctoral scholar with Dr. Stanley that gave me a psychoeducational foundation for bringing the Talent Search Model to the Belin-Blank Center and securing the early funding that allowed us to experiment with applying the Talent Search Model to elementary students.

By 1993, the Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search (BESTS) was in full operation.   The Talent Search Model is one of the most effective systems for discovering students who have high academic potential.  Primarily implemented outside of the school setting, the Belin-Blank Center has pioneered the application of the above-level testing model in schools through our online, above-level test, I-Excel.  These pioneering efforts — over 25 years — have demonstrated that we can broaden the talent pool and serve greater numbers of students who otherwise might not be identified for specialized programming.

The first annual Recognition Ceremony was hosted in 1993.  This ceremony does what it says:  recognizes students and their teacher for outstanding accomplishments earned through Belin-Blank Center programming.  Since the first ceremony, we have invited students to nominate a teacher who had the greatest influence on them.  This is always one of the most meaningful opportunities for students to show their appreciation to their teachers.

Fast-forwarding through the years 1994 – 1998 allows us a glimpse at the following highlights:

  • In 1994, we established the Iowa Talent Project, which was developed to find very talented under-represented students as early as grade 7 and support their academic development through graduation from the University of Iowa. This program continued for two decades.
  • In 1995, the Center’s name officially changed from the Connie Belin National Center for Gifted Education to the Connie Belin and Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development. This new name recognized the generosity of Myron and Jacqueline N. Blank and their enduring friendship with co-founders David and Connie Belin, reflected our growing international connections, and expanded our focus by including talent development.
  • 1996 was a year in which we continued to develop our educator and student programs. We also prepared for the hosting of the World Council for Gifted and Talented Children Conference, which occurred in August of 1997 in Seattle, WA.
  • Finally, 1998 gave us the 3rd Wallace Research Symposium as well as the beginning stages of planning for the Belin-Blank Center’s National Advisory Board and the National Academy of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering (which would become the Bucksbaum Academy in 2016).

Stay tuned for Phase III in April!

Message From the Director: How Did We Get From 1988 to 2018?

Quite simply, with a lot of dedication and commitment from our generous founders and benefactors, much effort and commitment to excellence from our staff, and belief and trust in the mission – empowering the worldwide gifted community – from students, educators, and families we serve.   Simple but not easy.

In a few days, we will flip over the calendar page from December 2017 to January 2018 and will usher in not only 2018, but the beginning of a yearlong celebration of 30 years of nurturing potential and inspiring excellence at the Belin-Blank Center!  That symbolic flip of the page, especially during the month of December, evokes both nostalgia as we reflect upon the growth of the Center over three decades and wistfulness when we think about what’s coming up in the immediate and how that will shape the next few decades.

For the next year, each director’s message will include an installment of Belin-Blank Center past and a glimpse of Belin-Blank Center present and future.

The early years of the Belin-Blank Center’s past reveal that professional development has always been at the heart of the Center’s programming.  Starting with 17 teachers from Des Moines and West Des Moines, and pre-dating the founding of the Center, the professional development programs have grown to include dozens of courses, workshops, and webinars.  The courses and workshops offer educators the necessary experiences to earn the State of Iowa Endorsement in Gifted Education.

Educators are the heart of the Center and students are our soul.   The programs for students continue to evolve from the first program in 1988, which we hosted for middle-school students.  New opportunities for students in grades 3 – 11 abound.

I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse into Belin-Blank past, and on behalf of the all of the Belin-Blank Center faculty, staff, and students, I wish you a very happy and healthy 2018!

Message from the Director: Fear Gives Way to Admiration, Inspiration, and Gratitude

Fear. My first meeting with David Belin and Myron and Jacqueline Blank occurred nearly 30 years ago, but the memory of that primal emotion remains strong today. Of course, fear is a product of the unknown and, to my knowledge, I had never met a millionaire, let alone a millionaire whose generosity was to lead directly to what would become my life’s work and passion.

The moment I met Myron and Jacqueline Blank, along with their friend and Belin-Blank Center co-founder, David Belin (Belin’s wife, Connie, had been deceased for about a decade), my fear immediately was replaced by admiration. I appreciated their gracious and genuine attention to me and the center’s staff—and their belief in our mission of empowering and serving gifted and talented students, as well as their teachers and families.

The Blanks and Belins were philanthropists who recognized what we could do with their generosity and trusted us to be innovative and groundbreaking, and they conveyed their gratitude for our efforts. Their visionary gift, which created the University of Iowa Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development, freed us from the constraints of convention, a hallmark of education, and inspired us to develop a trailblazing model for service and program delivery for talented students and their teachers. These innovations led to additional gifts from the original founding families and their descendants—as well as new gifts from other equally generous and gracious philanthropists.

Throughout the past three decades, the Belin-Blank Center has been growing programs and services for students and teachers. Iowans are at the core of our programming, but we serve students from around the country and the world. We’ve been competitive in our efforts for foundation, state, and federal grants, which were made possible because of those initial gifts. The Blank Honors Center never would have been built, and the Belin-Blank Center would not exist, without that initial philanthropy.

I acknowledge our founders every day. Now deceased, their generosity lives on; their gifts to this campus have impacted tens of thousands of young people and their teachers, and they will continue to do so for decades to come. That’s the power of philanthropy. Fear is a useless emotion, but gratitude, manifested through stewardship of the philanthropy, is powerful and can change the world, one student and one teacher at a time.

This story appeared in slightly different form in The Daily Iowan as part of their Voices of Philanthropy Series. Other installments of the series include a piece about philanthropy’s impact on one student, a student philanthropist’s point of view, and how crucial philanthropy is to Hancher Auditorium.

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