Category Archives: Message from the Director

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.

To help support the Belin-Blank Center, please visit our website.

Message from the Director: The Lifelong Process of Becoming

What do you want to be when you grow up?

This was the question asked of my granddaughter on her first day of kindergarten (firefighter and teacher were her responses).  Likely most of us have considered this question at various points throughout our lives.   I certainly have.

Although I have been an educator for four decades (1977-2017), I am grateful that the years have not jaded me.  Each first day of a new school year offers a sense of wonder, anticipation, and optimism, perhaps because I recognize that it is not really about what my granddaughter – or any student or colleague — will be when they grow up; rather, it is about the lifelong process of becoming.   With a new kindergartner in the family, I thought that it would be appropriate to share with you my wishes for her as she engages in the process of becoming. I wish that she would:

  • Find challenge in learning both in and out of school. Learners, and those who teach them, know that challenge represents the optimal learning environment.  There is just enough prior knowledge to build upon in acquiring new knowledge.  The appropriately challenged learner is neither bored nor frustrated, but rather empowered to seek new knowledge and develop further the sense of curiosity with which we are all born.
  • Build resilience to become an empowered learner. Without ever having set foot in a formal school setting, my granddaughter confidently states that her favorite subjects are math, science, and reading. If she wants to be a firefighter and a teacher, those are good subjects to master; however, she will need to recognize that there will be favorite subjects and those that are not favorites.  As well, there will be good days and days that are not as good.  The latter are important so that she can bounce back to enjoy the good days and revel in great days!
  • Develop leadership skills so that she can experience a meaningful life and make a positive impact on society. Sure, that is a tall order for a kindergartner, but it is an important aspect of learning and becoming.  When she enters her fifth decade of a profession, whether it be teaching and/or firefighting or a profession yet unknown, I hope that she will be able to look back and see how her leadership contributed positively to society.
  • Hone a sense of humility so that she will always approach the multitude of opportunities and gifts already bestowed upon her with gratitude, as well as develop an awareness that others do not always have these same opportunities or abilities.

My granddaughter started her formal education this week just as I was commencing my 5th decade as an educator.  I have never lost that sense of excitement on the first day of a new school year, and I hope she – and all of us – never lose it.  Keeping in mind the ideas of challenge, resilience, leadership, and humility may help her – and each of us –in the process of becoming.  Have a great year!

Message from the Director: Summertime is Talent Development Time

Welcome to the Belin-Blank Center’s 29th summer of programs for teachers and students!  While in the midst of serving hundreds of elementary, middle, and high school students, we will deliver TAG courses and workshops to teachers, evaluate clients in the Assessment and Counseling Clinic, and prepare for 2017-2018 fall and spring opportunities.  Dozens of short-term faculty and staff, including program coordinators, teaching assistants, instructors, and residential advisors, assist our permanent staff members in accomplishing our goals for Summer on the Brain.  While many students come from Iowa, we will also welcome students from 28 other states, plus Canada, Hong Kong, China, South Korea, and Turkey!

Saying good-bye at the end of each program is always difficult.  However, everyone can stay connected to the Belin-Blank Center through our newsletter and The Window, a new podcast hosted by Director Emeritus, Dr. Nicholas Colangelo.  As described in the article published in The Gazette, The Window aims to make a meaningful difference in the lives of the listeners and break new ground in our thinking about talent development and our educational systems vis-à-vis the talent development process.

Speaking of talent development, we are thrilled to share that the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation has introduced a new grant program, the Rural Talent Initiative, and the Belin-Blank Center is one of the six grantees.  In 2014, the Center received a $500,000 Talent Development Award from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation for its STEM Excellence and Literacy (SEAL) program for students in grades 5 to 7.  It will use its new grant to expand the program to students in grades 8 and 9 in the 10 rural Iowa school districts currently implementing SEAL. More than 1,000 students and their teachers in these districts will receive direct benefits over a two-year period due to this grant.

One thing we’ve found in nearly thirty years of summer programs is that there is always more to learn.  Even on the sleepiest summer days, students of all ages are at the Center learning exciting new things!

Message From the Director: Expression As A High Calling

“To learn to express is probably as high a calling as one can do; because as one expresses, one can bring people together and that’s the great challenge of all of us.”

Interim Director of the University of Iowa Museum of Art and Former U.S Representative James Leach (R-IA)

Indeed. Mr. Leach’s words, shared on March 11th at the Belin-Blank Center’s annual Scholastic Art and Writing Awards Ceremony, ring true for the Center’s administrators whether they’re creating programs for students or teachers, or hosting special events such as the Scholastic Awards Ceremony, the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium, or Invent Iowa. Striving to meet that challenge of “expression” on both a personal and professional level is not only a component of our special events; it is also an important aspect of the Center’s day-to-day operation.  Building community by bringing together talented learners is the common thread in the upcoming summer opportunities.  The programming goals for student and instructor are to attain a higher level of expression relative to the content of the class and the experience of being part of a community of like-minded learners.

In a previous post, I expressed my philosophy concerning transformational leadership and indicated that one of the most important roles we can serve as professionals is to give voice to those who are not in a position to express their voices or have their voices heard.  Two recent articles in peer-reviewed journals represent our efforts to give voice to talented students who are at risk due to economic vulnerability or twice-exceptionality.

The first article, “The effects of a social and talent development intervention for high ability youth with social skill difficulties,” authored by Associate Professor Megan Foley Nicpon and colleagues and published in the High Ability Studies (2017), present the findings of an intervention study with twice-exceptional students (high ability with social skill difficulties).  The social skills intervention itself, video modeling, is quite progressive in terms of interventions.  In addition, the intervention was conducted in a “naturalistic” setting, i.e., during a Belin-Blank Center two-week summer program, which is oriented towards students’ talent development.  Researchers found positive changes in several of the measured variables, including friendship companionship and security. The students in the social skills group, who experienced the video-modeling intervention, increased their willingness to seek help within their friendships compared to the non-intervention comparison group.  To our knowledge, this is the first study to investigate this group intervention with twice-exceptional students, and the preliminary findings support continuing to offer the intervention during our summer programs.

The second article, “Closing the excellence gap: Investigation of an expanded talent search model for student selection into an extracurricular STEM program in rural middle schools,” authored by Susan Assouline, Lori Ihrig, and Duhita Mahatmya and published in Gifted Child Quarterly (2017), reported on an expansion of the traditional Talent Search Model.  The expansion effectively broadened the talent pool of high-achieving students from the typical 3-to-5% to 13%.  The students participated in an extracurricular STEM program that was designed to increase the aspirations and achievements of high-potential students attending under-resourced rural schools.

An op-ed that I co-authored with Harold O. Levy, executive director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, highlighted the importance of providing these types of educational opportunities for rural students. One sentence in the op-ed captures the intersection of expression and voice:

The education gap dividing Americans by income and location is not just profoundly unfair, but a tremendous waste of talent. It means that we fail to benefit from the brainpower of millions of young people who could grow up to be doctors, scientists, entrepreneurs, inventors, teachers and fill other important roles. We simply can’t afford this unfairness.

For 29 years, the administrative team at the Belin-Blank Center has worked to develop the talents of students and their teachers.  We strive to form a community of like-minded individuals and close gaps due to disability or economic vulnerability.  It’s all possible when we aren’t afraid to speak up.