When Zeb Kai Kok Lim came to the United States from Malaysia to study computer science, he felt overwhelmed by the coursework and spent so much time learning what to expect from American professors that he fell behind in his studies and dropped out. Frustrated though not deterred, Lim found a mentor who supported his desire to drop computer science and Lim returned to Iowa State University three years later to earn a bachelor's degree in psychology. He's now pursuing his doctorate in counseling psychology at the University of Kansas, where his academic advisor also identified him as gifted.
Lim's experience as a "gifted dropout" has prompted him to investigate whether gifted Asian-American students are getting the support they need to make the most of their academic talents. With a $25,000 Esther Katz Rosen fellowship from the American Psychological Foundation, Lim is sifting through National Center for Education Statistics data to determine whether gifted Asian-Americans lag behind their peers in "social capital," or help from parents, educators and mentors on career options, educational opportunities and resources, such as scholarships.
"Asian-Americans may be achieving highly, but many are not achieving as highly as their European-American counterparts who have the same academic abilities," he says.
Lim is also looking at how gender, race and social support affect these students' educational and career choices over time to determine what sort of career counseling, emotional support and mentoring these students need at different stages of their academic careers.
There's relatively little research on the needs of gifted Asian-Americans, says Lim. That's due in part to prevailing stereotypes, he says.
"There is a continuing myth that Asian-American students are doing just fine," he says. In reality, plenty of gifted Asian-American students are struggling academically, some because their immigrant parents are unfamiliar with the American education system, and others because they don't find support at home for careers they feel passionate about. Asian-American students are also often excluded from minority scholarships and other services for minority students because they are seen as high-achieving, Lim says.
His goal is to help parents, teachers, educators and policymakers better understand the unique challenges facing these students.
"The lack of research with gifted Asian-American students makes it hard for educators and counselors to provide culturally appropriate guidance," he says. Psychologist Esther Katz Rosen, PhD, established the Rosen Fund in 1974 as way to support ongoing research on gifted children. The application deadline for the 2013 award is March 1.
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