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Release: July 1, 1999

Belin-Blank offers challenging summer programs for gifted students

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- While other kids are spending this summer playing video games, mowing the lawn or cruising the mall, more than 1,000 young people are spending a week or two at the University of Iowa learning about genetics, creating multimedia presentations and building inventions.

The Connie Belin and Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development is hosting nine special summer programs that are bringing elementary, junior high and high school students from Iowa and across the country to Iowa City.

"The experience is more intensive than anything they’ve had," said Jan Warren, student program administrator at the Belin-Blank Center.

Warren said the more than 90 UI faculty and staff who teach in and run the programs strive to challenge the students intellectually, as well as give them a chance to socialize with other academically gifted youth. Students in Belin-Blank programs are highly able and motivated and are grouped according to their abilities and interests so they can be themselves.

"These kids are excited about coming in and studying DNA for two weeks," Warren said. "That’s oftentimes very different than what they might find among their classmates in their hometown school."

Two scholarship programs in particular -- the Iowa Governors Summer Institute for the Gifted and Talented (IGI) and the Iowa Summer Institute for the Arts and Sciences (ISI) -- will expose Iowa students from seventh and eighth grades to upper-level coursework and plenty of opportunities for hands-on participation.

This year’s IGI began Sunday, June 27 and runs through July 9, offering 54 of Iowa’s gifted students a course titled "Science and Ethics of the Human Genome Project." Each student accepted to the program receives an Iowa Governor’s Institute Scholarship to cover a majority of the costs.

The curriculum for IGI is overseen by Jeff Murray, M.D., professor of pediatrics and biological sciences at the UI. This year’s Institute will provide students with a background in biology and genetics as they apply to recent advances in medicine and genetic technology. Students will learn about the science behind genetic and medical research through a series of interactive activities and then develop plans and policies regarding how genetic information may be used in the future.

ISI, a two-week program for 100 of Iowa’s gifted students, is broader in scope, offering six rigorous core courses that are typical of high school and college level classes. Students accepted to the ISI also receive financial assistance in the form of a Myron and Jacqueline Blank Summer Scholarship.

ISI courses include advanced science, math problem solving, social sciences, creative writing, multimedia and technology, and invention and innovation. Students in the multimedia program will produce a multimedia art project, and the writing program -- based on the Iowa Writers’ Workshop model -- will focus on Iowa life and themes.

Other programs offered this summer include, for elementary students, Challenges for Elementary School Students (CHESS); for junior high students, Junior Scholar’s Academy (JSA) and the Iowa Talent Project; and for high school students, the National Scholars Academy (NSA), the Summer Institute for Creative Engineering and Inventiveness (SICEI), the Environmental Health Sciences Institute for Rural Youth (EHSI) and Project ACHIEVE. Information about each of these programs is available on the Belin-Blank Center’s web site:

Summer isn’t all work and no play for these students, however. Plenty of activities -- from Latin dancing to hiking and picnics -- supplement the experience, which is memorable for many participants.

"My most treasured memory was when I attended the Iowa Governor’s Institute in 1996," one summer program alumnus from Cedar Falls wrote in a daily newsletter distributed to participants. "I met a lot of really great people that I still keep in touch with."

EDITORS NOTE: Media interested in interviewing faculty, staff or participants in the various summer programs should contact Jan Warren, student program administrator at the Belin-Blank Center, at (319) 335-6148.