Cover Story

"Write what you know," journalism scholar Julia Carney remembers her mentor repeatedly telling her when she began writing an essay for the Pinnacle Project, an American Psychological Foundation-funded program that teamed high school students with experts in the students' fields of interest. With their mentors' help, the scholars completed projects of their own choosing.

Carney used this advice from her mentor--Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Alex Jones--to write an op-ed article drawing on her experiences working at a women's homeless shelter when she was a high school student in Boston. In the article, she encouraged her fellow teenagers to recognize intolerance that can spur racism, homophobia and anti-Semitism, and challenge it in their communities.

Carney, now a 17-year-old freshman at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., won first place for her essay this summer in the Spirit of Daniel Pearl Youth Writing Contest, which honors the late Wall Street Journal reporter who was murdered in Pakistan last year while working on a story about Islamic extremists. The contest is sponsored by the Daniel Pearl Foundation and the teen Web site, YouthNOISE. Carney, who won a Sony laptop computer for her op-ed piece, was one of 500 high school applicants who submitted an essay for the contest.

"Julia was a highly experienced high school journalist when she came to the Pinnacle Project," says Rena Subotnik, PhD, director of the Esther Katz Rosen Center for Gifted Education Policy, which administered the program and is housed in APA's Education Directorate. "What she needed most at that point in her development was a mentor whose experience was in 'real world' journalism."

And that's exactly what she received in working with Jones, who directs Harvard University's Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, Subotnik says.

Blending writing and creativity

Indeed, besides intolerance, the creative process is a major interest of Carney's. Working with APA's Education Directorate this past summer, Carney interviewed other Pinnacle Project scholars about how they displayed creativity in their projects and in general.

Carney and Janet Soller, PhD, APA's assistant director of the Center for Gifted Education Policy, will present their findings at the International Conference on Creativity and Imagination in Education and Methods of Mastery, Nov. 17-20, in Moscow. The conference will highlight creativity and imagination across different age groups and professions, and will focus on understanding strategies and techniques that contribute to creativity.

Carney says that she also drew on her own creative processes in writing the essay for the contest. "Journalists use creativity in thinking of an interesting idea to catch a reader," she explains.

In her essay, Carney, for example, linked two seemingly unrelated situations--one involving scribbled swastikas on a high school bathroom stall and another with her homeless shelter work--to illustrate her thesis about intolerance. These two experiences show the prevalence of disrespect, ignorance and hate in society, she argued, urging teenagers to address intolerance by getting involved in their communities so they can witness and respond to such acts.

Jones says he encouraged Carney to write an op-ed article because it was a new style of writing for her that would allow her to express her heartfelt opinions. As Carney's mentor, Jones encouraged her to bounce ideas off him as she focused and wrote her essay. But, he says, she did all the work.

"I'm very proud of her, and I think this is very well-deserved," Jones said of Carney's win. "She worked very hard on this essay."

Further Reading

In the Pinnacle Project, funded from 2001 to 2003 by the American Psychological Foundation, seven gifted high school students were chosen each year to work with professionals from a variety of disciplines. The professionals selected the student they mentored based on students' demonstrated achievement in a given field. For more information on the Pinnacle Project visit www.apa.org/ed/cgepproject.html.