Think about the potential of a ninth-grader who's gifted in science. Think about what she could contribute to psychology or chemistry or physics over the length of her career.
Now consider that she may not contribute to any science field because she lost interest when she wasn't challenged in her science classroom.
A new APA center, the Center for Gifted Education Policy, has been created through a grant from the American Psychological Foundation (APF) to get psychologists and the public thinking about just that--how to enhance the achievement and performance of children and adolescents with special gifts and talents.
"Creating a Gifted Education Center with Esther Rosen Katz funds is a wonderful opportunity for APF," says APF President Dorothy Cantor, PsyD. "Until now, APA has neglected these kids almost completely, but we're about to change that," says APA Past-president Martin E.P. Seligman, PhD, who helped create the center as an APF trustee.
Channeling children's interests
"We have been fortunate to snare one of the leading gifted educators in the world, Rena Subotnik, PhD, away from academia to spearhead our new initiative," Seligman says.
Subotnik is on leave from a position as a professor in the School of Education at Hunter College to take the center's helm in January. She has a long history in the field as a researcher, author and journal editor, was an APA Congressional Fellow in Child Policy from 199798 and gave the Esther Katz Rosen Lecture at APA's 2000 Annual Convention in Washington.
She'll direct the center based on the idea that all disciplines--science, math, engineering, history, the arts and sports--want to nurture the next generation of talent but some fields are further along in developing ways to cultivate this talent than others.
"Some disciplines have highly developed structures for cultivating talent, but others take a more haphazard approach," says Subotnik. "I'd like to draw the attention of the latter group to how they can do it more consciously."
A good place to start, she says, is by looking at performance fields like music and sports, which do a great job of identifying and nurturing gifted young people. For example, first- year students at Julliard arrive knowing a lot about the faculty and with which faculty member they want to work. Most important, says Subotnik, is that they receive individualized attention tailored to their unique abilities and personalities. But in most science fields, few talented students receive individualized attention in their first two years of higher education--and this is often the time when women leave science, math and engineering fields, Subotnik points out.
The road ahead
The center will focus on several areas:
Increasing awareness. The center wants to make the topic of giftedness more visible to psychologists and the public. Its initial step will be to sponsor a symposium at this year's APA Annual Convention, Aug. 2428, in San Francisco, on the psychology of selective admissions. The dean of admissions from Stanford University and from the San Francisco Conserv- atory of Music and the sports psychologist for the U.S. Olympic Committee will discuss the psychological variables that come into play in gaining access to elite career paths.
Building alliances. The center will seek to create ties with similarly focused organizations, such as the Council for Exceptional Children and the National Association for Gifted Children. Subotnik also hopes to work with groups that conduct competitions for gifted adolescents, such as the Mathematics Olympiads and the Intel Science Talent Search. And there are plans to connect with the staff of other discipline-based organizations, such as the American Political Science Association, to ensure that at least one session at their conventions explicitly addresses talent development in their fields.
Developing products. The center is working to publish information that will promote the importance of talent development, such as a handbook for parents of gifted children, a Web site that will provide resources for parents and psychologists and a book on cutting-edge research issues in the field.
Giving talented students hands-on experience. In August, Subotnik and her colleagues will run the Pinnacle Project, a five-day summit that will pair eight students with experts in the fields of music, biology, journalism, paleontology, fiction and nonfiction writing, mathematics and psychology. Some of the project's mentors include Seligman, Jack Horner, the paleontologist who worked closely with Steven Spielberg on "Jurassic Park," Joshua Lederberg, a Nobel laureate in medicine and physiology, Philip Scheffler, executive editor of "60 Minutes," and fiction writers Faye and Jonathan Kellerman, PhD.
"The Pinnacle Scholars program will be our flagship," says Seligman.
The students will participate in hands-on group activities, get one-on-one time with experts and work together to create a cross-disciplinary project. They'll receive mentoring throughout following two years and career guidance into college.
Organizers hope to provide students a safe forum to discuss the joys, psychological stresses and expectations that come along with talent development at the highest levels.