Monthly Archives: October 2012

The Many Faces of Gifted: Thomas

By Carole Rosner

Every gifted person has a unique story. The following story is part of a series of posts depicting the many faces of gifted by highlighting gifted children and adults we have found through IEA programs. IEA’s Apprenticeship Program – mentioned in this story – links gifted high school students from across the country with mentors who advance each participant’s skills through the application of knowledge and exposure to real world experiences.

Thomas Zenteno
2008 Industrial Design Apprentice at Art Center College of Design
Current Student at Art Center College of Design

Thomas Zenteno grew up in Miami, Florida, and came to Pasadena, California, in the summer of 2008 to participate in the IEA Apprenticeship Program at Art Center College of Design. I talked to him about his experience.

“I started the IEA program when I was 17, in the summer between my junior and senior year of high school. I was lucky enough to attend a visual arts magnet high school called Design and Architecture Senior High (DASH), where I was able to study Industrial Design as a focus. My teacher, Ms. Kwiatkowksi, selected myself and three other students from her program to participate in the IEA program that helped shape all of us as friends and designers.”

Even in Florida, Thomas was familiar with the reputation of the Pasadena-based college. “I had met students who had gone to the IEA program in previous years, and all of them came back with exceptional work and much more knowledge both in design and in life experiences. I also knew of the prestigious name Art Center had in the design world and a lot of my favorite product, transportation and entertainment designers graduated from Art Center. I remember Art Center sending a promotional book about the different majors of the school to DASH, and I would spend hours reading through the descriptions of students and looking at the quality of work in those pages, which was key in inspiring me to go to Art Center above any other design or art school.”

When I asked Thomas what he did as an Apprentice, he said, “Stan Kong, my Mentor for the program, had a small class of nine students, and together we were able to work on both personal and class projects. We learned a lot about design thinking and how we could use product design to help improve lives around the world. The class was treated as a studio atmosphere where we would learn from Stan or our T.A.’s K.C. Cho and Wayne Johnson. Afterwards, we would be given an assignment to practice in class as well as homework to bring in the following day. We would pin the work up on the walls and critique projects one by one. Our projects ranged from alarm clocks to devices that safely relocated bats form one area of a city to another. For final presentations, we were required to make a physical model of our design. We learned a lot about time management, discipline and work ethics that I’ve carried with me at Art Center as a student and into my professional practice working as a freelance concept artist.”

Although Thomas studied industrial design in high school, the Apprenticeship Program provided a positive challenge for him. “I believe one of the biggest challenges was to produce the amount of work we were required as well as back up our designs with good research and thinking. Although it was stressful, and many nights I would stay up late working, it was well worth the amount of learning I gained in just three short weeks. The mileage and knowledge I gained gave me a great foundation to start my portfolio to get into Art Center and truly opened up a lot of doors for me.”

Thomas said there was a big change in himself going from that summer experience back to high school. “It was my first time really being away from home, and you could definitely see a change in my drive and direction to focus even more during my senior year at DASH. Many of my friends and classmates got “senioritis,” where they slacked off for their last year of high school, while the four of us who went to the IEA program continued to push ourselves to be the best in our class. As a result, we received some of the highest scholarships in our class. Two of us went to Art Center College of Design, while the remaining two went to College for Creative Studies (CCS). I credit a lot of my work ethic to the IEA program.”

Thomas is currently majoring in Entertainment Design at Art Center. “I chose Entertainment Design because it blends a few of my favorite sensibilities in design and art. At DASH, my foundation was in product and transportation design, but I had a great love for figure drawing and painting as well. Entertainment Design allows me to blend all of those sensibilities– characters, environments, vehicles and props for films, video games, animation and theme parks. I try to be as well-rounded as I can, so Entertainment Design seemed to be very fitting since it has a very broad range of applications. Looking back, though, at the root of it all is the fact that Entertainment Design is all about storytelling, and I think that’s what attracted me to it.”

What are Thomas’ future plans? “I’m still really young, so there a lot of different ways my life could go. I’ve been freelancing as a Concept Designer since 2010, and I really enjoy working on multiple projects from film to animation. I’ve had a handful of notable clients from Bad Robot to an aerospace corporation, and interning at Warner Bros. was an enlightening experience. I would love to work on films and games for much of my life, but in the end, I would really like to give back by teaching and helping the world out in some small way.”

Thomas is still in touch with some of the other kids who were part of his program. “A few of my fellow Apprentices are peers of mine at Art Center as well as others who have gone to other schools. I meet up with them in my hometown of Miami, Florida, occasionally. A lot of the Apprentices are currently in colleges spread out around the country, but quite a few are in Pasadena at Caltech or Art Center. The ones I’ve kept closest contact with are definitely lifelong friends, and we’ll find ourselves at dinner parties or just having a good time out hiking.”

Thomas really benefitted from his time as an Apprentice. “It’s easily a pivotal moment in my life, and I think it really can open up a high school student’s perspective. It’s extremely fun to engage in all the different activities that IEA provides, as well as the more work-focused part of it. I think you always get what you put into it, and in the case of IEA, it’s given me a sort of second family that was crucial to me moving out here from Florida when I was 18. IEA truly inspired me to be a better person, and I met a lot of friends I never would have had otherwise; all in all I’m pretty happy because of it.”

Parents, Please Take a Seat at Our Table

By Elizabeth Jones, IEA President and Co-Founder

Parents of gifted children, please take a seat at our tableIn reading the article “Is There a Place at the Table for Parents” a few days ago, I began to reflect on and evaluate how we at IEA invite parents to take a seat at the table.

I decided to discuss the topic with our staff. Kate Duey, a parent of 3 gifted daughters and a consultant for IEA, was in the office and had a few compelling comments about how she felt as the mother of gifted children.

She said that she did not feel particularly “included” in most of the past gifted organizations in which her daughters participated. “At one large summer program for gifted kids, I dropped my daughter off at the dorms, and that was pretty much it,” Kate recalled. “No one who administered the program was available for me to talk to. I got to talk to her dorm advisor for a few minutes that day, but that was it. When the program was over, I was to just pick her up and take her home, nothing more. I had no opportunity to speak with anyone running the program nor a way to learn about what happened while she was in attendance. I was a means of transportation more than anything.” That was disconcerting for her, and this was not an isolated incident.

I wanted to see what she would say about us – after all, she is a consultant here to assist our organization. She said, “At IEA, the parents are included in everything from the Apprenticeship presentations, to the Bradley Seminar, to talking with the staff and Fellows at Yunasa, to parent support groups, and parents are even on the Board of Directors. I even have been here when you call a parent to see how class went on Saturday or to see how a child was doing in school that week.”

At IEA, we support the whole gifted child – intellectually, socially, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Parent input is crucial. The folks that live with these darling, amazing, and sometimes frustrating little guys have ideas and questions! We know that these children do not operate in a vacuum and that their parents are the life-line to their success.

We want parents to take a seat at the table. We want them to feel involved in our organization and the ways in which we serve their children.

We know that parenting a gifted child is not easy. Other parents, and often even teachers, don’t understand what you are going through. It is difficult to find information, resources, and support to help you raise your gifted child. Your child needs support, but so do you.

Because of this, every program at IEA has some parent component. For example:

  • On the first day of Yunasa, parents get to meet and learn from the Fellows, renowned professionals in the social and emotional development of gifted children.
  • Parents of high school Apprentices are invited to attend the Apprentices’ final presentations, in which all participants share what they have accomplished while working with their Mentor over the course of the program. A closing picnic for all hosted by IEA staff members follows.
  • Academy families are encouraged to speak with staff before or after classes. We are starting Academy Family Nights, where families have the opportunity to connect and build community. We are also using parent feedback to create new classes – parents asked for a young girls’ book club, so we are going to start one this winter.
  • Parents of Caroline D. Bradley Scholars attend the annual Bradley Seminar, a weekend of community and learning.
  • All of our programs solicit feedback from students and their parents. Information gleaned in these evaluations has assisted us in honing our services to better meet the changing needs of our constituency.
  • IEA staff members frequently speak with parents regarding their individual child, even if that family has not participated in one of our offerings.

But are we doing enough? Probably not.

We try to be an open resource for parents looking for support for their gifted child. We offer consulting services. We host several parent support groups throughout the year to provide support, community, and information on topics of interest to parents of gifted children. We have asked Stephanie Tolan, a Senior Fellow, to speak about her experience parenting a gifted child. We have an active social media presence – here on our blog, on Twitter, and on Facebook – all of which provide an open forum for discussion and questions.

Yet children and their parents still go unheard in the gifted community.

We want to learn, we want to help, we want each parent to feel heard and hopefully helped.

Parents of gifted children often contribute to this blog to offer parent perspectives on raising gifted children. A parent of one of our program participants is currently helping with our strategic planning. We ask for parent input, and we take it seriously.

At IEA, we do advocate for gifted children in a way similar to what Lisa describes in the article, but we do our best to bring parent feedback into it. We often provide educators and other organizations with tools to serve gifted children. We do involve parents in our organization, and we believe we are supporting their needs. Our table maybe small, but it is well built.

Please know that you can always come to IEA for support, guidance, information, and resources. We want you to have a seat at the table. We can always build a bigger table.

As an organization that dedicates itself to connecting bright minds and nurturing intellectual and personal growth, we know that parents of these bright minds are integral in this process. Please take a seat at our table.

Do you feel that parents have a seat at the table in the gifted community? Please share with us in the comment section below.

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7 Questions with Jessica Houben


Jessica Houben is a Program Coordinator with IEA. She will be working most closely with the Yunasa camps this program season.

1. What are you most passionate about in working with the gifted community?

I am most passionate about working with gifted youth in a non-traditional educational setting because I get to see kids grow on a personal level as well as intellectually. Getting to know each individual student throughout the application process and then seeing them in person going through an IEA program is really rewarding because these kids are multi-faceted and complex in the most amazing ways. In a school setting, you don’t always get to see these kids for who they are, but at IEA, we get to see them blossom as individuals. It is such a pleasure to hear happy parents when they realize that they’ve finally found programs that will challenge their child.

2. What is the most interesting thing you have learned about gifted kids since you started at IEA?

I guess I always thought about gifted kids being really intelligent, which they are. However, one interesting thing I have learned is that they can also be very emotionally intense. They do not take injustices lightly, they are passionate about the world’s problems, and they can be overly worried about friends or loved ones. These kids care a lot about their environment, and if given the proper tools, can really make a difference as leaders of the next generation.

3. What are you looking forward to about coordinating Yunasa this year?

I have coordinated Academy classes as well as our Apprenticeship Program for the past two program seasons and had the opportunity to attend and be in a supportive role at Yunasa in 2011. I love that Academy and Apprenticeship are academic programs that provide challenging intellectual content to gifted learners that they may not otherwise have access to, but I’m really excited to facilitate personal and intellectual growth within a camp environment. I really enjoy camping, the outdoors, and carrying on traditions. I’m hopeful that I can continue the Yunasa tradition and that even more students are able to benefit from the camp.

4. What’s your favorite activity from an IEA program?

It is really hard to choose because there are so many things that I love that we do in each program! I like that we do Olympics at Apprenticeship, because the Apprentices support and encourage their team members and compete in a positive way. I also enjoy Psychosynthesis at Yunasa because it allows campers the opportunity to focus and relax. However, I think my favorite activity from an IEA program is launching rockets with our Academy students. During spring, I assisted in the Rocket to Calculus class and had the chance to build and launch a rocket with students, which was so much fun because I got to see the students’ faces light up as the math and science they learned came to life!

5. What is your educational philosophy?

I believe that education should be meaningful, holistic, and child-centered. In today’s society, a lot of emphasis is placed on test scores and results rather than focusing on the process of learning. Children need to learn by exploring their world, solving problems that are relevant to them, and having positive experiences in content areas that are interesting. Of course, everyone needs to learn the basics, but that is just one part of education. The other part is finding out what each child enjoys and wants to learn more about and then providing the opportunities to learn about that topic in a way that keeps them interested in becoming lifelong learners.

6. What’s your favorite snack food?

My favorite snack food is chocolate. Whenever I’m feeling tired, or stressed, or I just need something a little sweet, chocolate is the answer. It can be in any form; I don’t discriminate.

7. What’s one activity you enjoy doing in your free time?

I really enjoy doing yoga in my free time. I have practiced yoga on and off for about 9 years, taking different classes in college, at yoga studios, at the gym, or with a video in my living room. It’s an activity that uses my mind and body, and every time I do it I feel like I’m doing a good thing for myself.

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The Gift of Gab

By Elizabeth Jones, IEA Co-Founder and President

I have had the privilege of learning from gifted and highly gifted students for over 20 years. During that time, we have worked with schools, trained teachers, supported students, provided fun, engaging learning experiences, guided parents and listened to kids.

The anecdotes that follow demonstrate some of the most common characteristics of intellectually precocious youth, such as advanced vocabulary, curiosity, deep empathy, rage to master, keen observation, humor and the articulation of apparently logical theories.

Although these incidents are all unique to different children, if you have had the benefit of spending time with these amazing young people, you will inevitably relate to similar comments or events.

“Who knew? School is not a place you go to learn; it is where you go to make macaroni necklaces.” – 5-year-old boy

“There are 532 dots in the ceiling tile over my desk. I know it is a weird number but it is the number. I know because I count them every day when we read together in class. I think they should make the tiles with 576 dots or 484 dots. Why? Because it is easier to do the square root.” – 7-year-old girl

“Can I be my 8-year-old self this afternoon? I had to be my 15-year-old self all day.” – 8-year-old girl

“I learned something new in school today: you get in trouble if you tell the teacher she is wrong—even if she is wrong. That is not right—it is wrong!” – 7-year-old boy

“In my school, we have gifted kids called ‘nerds,’ and we have good athletes we call ‘jocks.’ I think we need a word for gifted kids who are good athletes—like ‘jerds!’ Ha! I am a total jerd!” – 11-year-old boy

“I just feel better when I eat only white food. What is the problem?” – 6-year-old girl

“I remember, when I was young, I cried when I saw the leaves on the tree in the back yard fall off. I thought it must hurt the tree. So I went to hug the tree, and she told me it was okay, it didn’t hurt, and new leaves would grow back. It took such a long time, but it happened. I love that tree.” – 6-year-old girl

“Home is safe; I have my books, my computer, my snuggle bunny and mom. Why should I go to some strange house to ‘play’?” – 8-year-old boy

“You are right; if you do your math work sheet upside down, it is a lot more interesting.” – 10-year-old boy

Gifted children are not better than other kids, they are just different. They think differently, learn in unique ways and they have a wonderful sense of humor. Imagine a world that celebrated all these kids have to offer! What a wonderful world it would be!

What things have your kids said to you that demonstrated a characteristic of giftedness? Please share in the comment section below!

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Getting Your Parental Report Card

By Lisa Hartwig

Lisa is the mother of 3 gifted children and lives outside of San Francisco.

I just received my first grade as a parent. I got an “A.” How do I know I got an “A”? U.S. News & World Report said so.

My oldest son earned me this grade by getting into the University of Chicago. I know that sounds awful. But the message I received from other parents over the last 18 years suggests that I am responsible for my children’s achievements. The ultimate achievement in our community is enrollment in an elite university.

No one told me directly that I was being graded, but I saw how my neighbors reacted when we made educational choices for our children that were different from theirs. They took it very personally. They behaved as though my husband and I were implying that what was good enough for their child was not good enough for ours. I remember one difficult dinner when our guests insisted that our move to a local independent school was not only unnecessary, it was opportunistic. Private schools were only good for helping students develop business contacts for the future. If a child had the strength of character and family support, he could achieve success in a public school setting. His proof? He went to a public school and ended up teaching at Stanford and working at a large biotechnology company.

We all went our separate ways, with no common rubric to judge our progress—until now. It’ time for our children to go to college.

It seems wrong to take credit for my son’s accomplishments, and I’m not even sure U.S. News & World Report can measure them. So I asked my husband what role he thinks we play in our children’s accomplishments. He said that he would not give himself credit for our children’s success but would take credit for not messing them up. I thought we deserved a little more credit than that. I decided to evaluate my parenting skills by my ability to help them find the sun.

My children are sunflowers. If I let them act instinctively, they will turn towards the sun by finding the people and places that feed their love of learning. If something gets in the way of the sun, they wilt. I know this is a silly metaphor, but it helps me visualize my role in their lives. My job is to clear away any obstructions so that they can find the sun. They faced a lot of obstructions over the years. Sometimes, it’s been me.

It’s hard to see yourself as an obstruction. But I learned, with my husband’s assistance, that my “help” was not always helpful. So, I returned my red pen to my son when my college essay edits robbed him of his voice. I remained silent when my son eschewed the Calculus AP exam in favor of “Circus” class. I bit my tongue when he told me that he wasn’t going to apply to a particular Ivy League school because the admissions officer stressed the accomplishments of the student body and he didn’t want to achieve anything in college; he just wanted to learn. I believed that my son has good instincts. I was determined to let him find the college that best suited him, and that meant I couldn’t get in the way.

I think parents of gifted children have a particularly hard time establishing the right grading policy for themselves. Most of us begin by assessing our ability to find and deliver the appropriate curriculum and social and emotional support for our child. Our efforts are often handicapped by teachers who think our children don’t need accommodations and parents who see our requests as elitist. Even with our best efforts, our children may still disengage in the classroom and underachieve at school. Given their abilities, we are tempted to see anything short of extraordinary achievement as our failure (and theirs). Our final grade, by my neighbors’ standards, may not reflect our efforts. We may not even agree on what constitutes an “A.”

My son decided to go to the University of Chicago because it had interdisciplinary classes like “Mind” and “Power Identity and Resistance.” The school has a Circus Club and the world’s largest scavenger hunt. He liked the admissions essays and heard that the kids watch Dr. Who. Its motto is “Let knowledge grow from more to more; and so be human life enriched.”

I dropped my son off last week. As we walked through the leaf strewn quad, he said, “I don’t think I will ever do anything in my life that takes advantage of everything this place has to offer.” My son turned toward the sun, which turned out to be in Chicago. Maybe if I stay close to him (but out of his way), I will feel some of its warmth, too.

What role do you feel you play in your child’s accomplishments? Please share in the comment section below.

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