Gifted and Talented Center to Receive
$8.5 Million Over Next Five Years
The University of Connecticut is a treasure-trove of cutting-edge research centers. One of these jewels is hidden away in the basement of the Gordon F. Tasker Building. It is off the beaten path and barely noticed by the campus community, yet it draws the attention of academics and educators from around the world.
The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented is the first and only such center in the U.S. and it has been based at UConn for 10 years. Its creation was due to the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Act. And, thanks to a new $8.5 million grant from the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, the center is funded for another five years.
Yet even after a decade of success, the center's director was not absolutely positive his group would be chosen for a third time.
"We've faced fierce competition from the beginning. I think we won because we had a good set of ideas," says Joseph Renzulli, who is also the Neag Professor of Gifted Education and Talent Development. "We are committed to doing work which is practice-relevant , practitioner-friendly and consumer-oriented."
The set of ideas also includes Renzulli's decision to make the center a collaborative effort involving UConn, the University of Virginia and Yale University.
He could have carved out a big piece of the funding pie for himself and UConn, but that is not how he works. He believes in a team effort and giving credit where it is due. That is why he will not talk about the center's success unless E. Jean Gubbins, the associate director, is part of the conversation.
"I couldn't have done this alone," Renzulli says. "Jean has played an integral role from the beginning. She has the organizational and personal skills that are essential to running a complex and responsive center."
He and Gubbins couldn't be more proud of the UConn research team. They work with Sally Reis, professor of educational psychology; Del Siegle, assistant professor of educational psychology; David Kenny, professor of social psychology; and Anne O'Connell, associate professor of educational psychology.
They have produced reams of materials that Renzulli describes as "good information with a solid research base," designed for use by teachers, administrators, policymakers and, in some cases, parents. Proj-ects range from a guidebook and video designed to help teachers modify curricula for high-achieving students, to advice for parents about the television habits of high-ability youth.
Tens of thousands of educators from around the world, from Nigeria to Russia, turn to the National Research Center for information, ideas, and guidance. Renzulli and Purcell have made it their business to understand how they can best serve the educational community. They started 10 years ago by conducting a massive needs assessment and have since updated it twice. On each occasion they surveyed practitioners and asked "what can we do to help you?" in serving students or developing policy.
That is why the Center is not just a clearinghouse for the latest research data on gifted education and talent development. For this group, the real fun doesn't begin until the research is in use as a handbook or a video or any one of a number of tools. Open any current textbook in the field and, as Gubbins points out, the Center is well represented.
"Our work isn't sitting on a shelf gathering dust," she says. "We have an incredible amount of information available at our fingertips and we do not copyright our materials, so they can be easily reproduced."
From the beginning, Renzulli realized that broad-based dissemination of the center's research and materials would be essential to its success. So he spent his spare time boning up on the latest marketing and advertising theories before developing strategies for promoting its products.
The center cultivates novices as well as senior scholars in the field. Renzulli and Gubbins agree they see themselves as responsible for bringing along a group of people who will be the future leaders in gifted education and talent development.
"Although we are a small group, we meet lots of needs," Gubbins says. Renzulli refers to some of those needs as the "toxic details", such as the time it takes to arrange a phone conference among six researchers, or running down the street to catch the last mail truck of the day, or the endless late night meetings preparing the latest funding proposal.
But whenever Renzulli wants to remind himself what the long hours have been for, he takes out a photograph he keeps close at hand. It is a picture of a young boy who is holding out his hands showing off something he has made in class. His face is filled with undeniable joy and a touch of self-satisfaction.
Renzulli is like a proud father when he looks at the picture. "It would be nice if every day a kid could have that kind of look in his face," he says. "If there is a payoff in all of this, it is not in the numbers of awards or presentations, but in seeing what happens in the eyes of a single child. That is where research pays off in our field."