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Release: Oct. 30, 2002

UI graduate student to receive national dissertation award

Despite overwhelming evidence that academically gifted students' early entrance into college is a positive experience, many educators and parents remain skeptical.

"They are afraid that these exceptionally gifted students will become emotionally or socially maladjusted if they are allowed to skip their senior year of high school and miss out on high school activities such as the prom," said Michelle Muratori, a doctoral student in counselor education in the University of Iowa's College of Education.

So from the fall 1999 to spring 2002, Muratori investigated the matter herself. She interviewed 10 students in the Connie Belin & Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development's early entrance program, the National Academy of Arts, Sciences and Engineering (NAASE), where she worked as a graduate assistant.

The result was a dissertation titled "A Follow-up Study Examining the College Adjustment of Early Entrance Students," which has been selected by the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) to receive its 2002 Dissertation Research Award. Muratori will receive the award Saturday, Nov. 2, during the NAGC's annual convention in Denver, where she will also present her findings. The award carries a $500 grant intended to support dissertation research.

"Receiving the award is a great honor," Muratori said. "I am flattered that my work is being recognized by NAGC. Credit for this achievement also belongs to Dr. Nicholas Colangelo and Dr. Susan Assouline, the director and associate director of the Belin-Blank Center, because they have been so generous with their support and guidance."

A native of Anaheim Hills, Calif., Muratori received her bachelor's degree in human services, with a minor in psychology (with honors), from California State University-Fullerton and her master's degree in the counseling psychology program at Northwestern University. The dissertation for which Muratori is being recognized by NAGC is a follow-up to her master's thesis, "First-Semester Impressions of Early-Entrance Students," based on initial interviews with the 10 NAASE students. The master's thesis earned Muratori the Iowa Talented and Gifted Association 2000 Research Award and will soon be published in Gifted Child Quarterly, the flagship journal in the field of gifted and talented education.

As a graduate assistant at the Belin-Blank Center, Muratori provided support to NAASE students, helping organize meetings and social activities for them, and assisted with clinical consultations. NAASE, created in 1999, gives select students who have completed course work equivalent to the junior year in high school a chance to accelerate their academic careers.

Over the course of two years Muratori interviewed NAASE students to see how they were adjusting to college. She also interviewed parents, NAASE administrators, UI faculty, and resident advisors and surveyed high school teachers. Her research findings counter myths about gifted teenagers entering college early and show that there are positive outcomes associated with this form of acceleration.

"Early entrance to college is certainly not appropriate for every gifted student," she says. "However, for certain highly able students who are ready for the challenge, it may be exactly what they need. And I demonstrate that point in my research."

Muratori is currently sifting through all the data she's collected for her final dissertation, which she may turn into a book.

"I am still writing up the findings, but the data is very rich and I think the gifted education community will definitely be interested in the findings," she said.