The 2001-2002 Pinnacle Project

Sponsored by The American Psychological Foundation and the Claymath Institute

The Pinnacle Project summit brings together:

  • Established masters in the arts and sciences.

  • Outstanding researchers and professionals beginning careers (for each discipline).

  • Extraordinarily talented high school students (one in each of the disciplines).

During the summer of 2001, seven highly gifted adolescents participated in a week-long mentorship program designed to cultivate their extraordinary talents. On the quiet, picturesque campus of Simon's Rock College, nestled in the heart of the Berkshires, each of these seven young scholars worked individually with an established master in his or her field of interest. This innovative program, called the Pinnacle Project, was funded by the American Psychological Foundation (APF) and directed by Rena Subotnik, director of APF's Center for Gifted Education Policy.


The goals of the Pinnacle Project were to:

  • Establish a venue for fertilization of ideas about talent development across disciplines.

  • Provide an opportunity for highly gifted adolescents to learn from and be guided by mentors in their fields of interest.

  • Discuss in a safe forum the joys, stresses and expectations associated with talent development.

  • Plan investigations that would serve as a basis for mentoring.

  • Publicize the talent development needs of gifted adolescents.

Disciplines Represented

The Pinnacle Summit was a unique gathering in that it brought together established, emerging and potential talent in an intra- and interdisciplinary context. Seven disciplines were represented:

  1. Fiction writing

  2. Biology

  3. Music

  4. Mathematics

  5. History

  6. Psychology

  7. Journalism

Each disciplinary team consisted of one or two eminent scholars or practitioners in the field, including past APA president Martin Seligman, Psychologist and Foundation Executive E. Belvin Williams, Nobel Laureate Joshua Lederberg, Executive Editor of 60 Minutes Philip Scheffler, Beatrice Affron, conductor of the Pennsylvania Ballet, Vincent Wimbush, Professor of Religious History, and best-selling authors Faye and Jonathan Kellerman. Each team also included an emerging star and a high school aged scholar who has already demonstrated outstanding ability, motivation and creativity in the field.

Each day of the summit included opportunities for the teams to meet, talk about their interests and develop a plan for the coming year. In addition, each day included lunchtime roundtable discussions that facilitated the exchange of ideas and questions among the various disciplines.

During the course of the summit, each of the masters gave a lecture to the entire group. At the culmination of the week, each young scholar presented what they had learned from their individual team meetings and talked about projects that they were planning for the coming year. In addition to intellectual stimulation, the Pinnacle Summit also included cultural and recreational activities.

Students, associates and masters alike enjoyed a trip to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, a tap dance performance at Jacob's Pillow, a hike up a mountain, a concert at Tanglewood, an ice cream social, a Shakespearean comedy and a homegrown talent show. During the 2001-2002 academic year, each discipline-based team worked on a project they began during the summit. We look forward to reporting on those projects in future issues of the newsletter.

The 2002 Pinnacle Summit

The 2002 Pinnacle Summit took place from August 4-11 at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY. On August 4, the 2001 Pinnacle masters, associates and scholars convened for a 2-day reunion. The new 2002 Pinnacle masters, associates and scholars arrived on August 5, thus giving them an opportunity to spend a day with last year's participants before launching into their work. This year's summit involved seven disciplines:

  1. Music composition

  2. Computer science

  3. Journalism

  4. Creative writing

  5. Theoretical physics

  6. Visual arts

  7. Psychology

This year's masters included:

  • Sam Maitin (whose paintings, silkscreen prints and sculptures appear at the National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Tate Gallery in London, the Library of Congress and the Klingspor Museum in Frankfort).

  • Martin Seligman (renowned psychologist and originator of the theories of Learned Helplessness and Learned Optimism).

  • Joan Oliver Goldsmith (author of "How Can We Keep from Singing: Music and the Passionate Life").

  • Alex Jones (a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author of "The Patriarch: The Rise and of the Bingham Dynasty" and "The Trust: The Private and Powerful Family Behind the New York Times").

  • Michael Gandolfi (whose music has been performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Nieuw Sinfonietta Amsterdam, the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra).

  • Cumrun Vafa (physics professor at Harvard University specializing in string theory).

  • Manuel and Lenore Blum, computer science professors at Carnegie Melon University.