As alumni, Marc Howard and Miriam Melnick know how transformative the CTY experience can be. That’s why the married Google engineers devote three weeks each summer to teaching Advanced Robotics, which exposes high school students to graduate-level material as they tackle emerging trends in engineering, like autonomous navigation and computer vision.
“They can directly apply what they learn in the workforce or in an academic setting,” Howard says. “They learn that engineering isn’t magic; it’s a great tool they can keep in their belts.” Google allows Howard and Melnick to engage in activities like teaching at CTY, but not all employers offer such options. We must provide stipends respectful of these working professionals’ time — often unpaid — out of the office. These individuals, especially those from underrepresented groups, such as women in computer science, can deeply affect CTY students. “Our female students are gobsmacked that there’s a woman, an engineer at Google, at the front of the class, encouraging them to follow in her footsteps,” Melnick says. “We can make a huge impact when we inspire students in that way — and funding is important in making that happen.”
When the U.S. Department of Education issued new guidelines about gifted education in April 2016, a question arose: What percentage of American students are actually capable of working above their grade level?
Within two months, Julian C. Stanley Professor of Talent Development Jonathan Plucker and his colleagues had completed a study and a policy brief finding that up to 40 percent of elementary and middle school students perform at least one grade level above their current grade in reading and up to 30 percent in math. If so many students were already ahead of grade-based benchmarks, the researchers argued, then policymakers need to rethink the current age-based, grade-level paradigm.
Plucker immediately received invitations to speak with state policymakers to determine how their regulations could be amended to ensure resources aren’t wasted teaching students information they already know. These kinds of “rapid response” projects arise often, Plucker says, and CTY’s international network of contacts gives the center an advantage in pursuing them. The missing link? Increased funding for research costs.
“Through policy advocacy, we can make a disproportionately big impact,” Plucker says, “and philanthropic support makes a very big difference. There’s a lot of bang for the buck in this area.”
In the past decade, Ilenna Jones has graduated from Dartmouth College, studied under the direction of a Nobel Prize winner, worked in a Johns Hopkins laboratory, and started a PhD in neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania. She hopes someday to advance treatments for neuropsychotic illnesses, such as schizophrenia. Looking back, Jones considers her CTY genetics and genomics summer courses a launching pad for that success— and knows her family’s finances nearly rendered it an impossibility.
Thanks to a full scholarship to CTY, Jones tackled challenging scientific material and became empowered by her increasing ability to grasp it. She thrived among a group of teens who, like her, sought to learn for learning’s sake. CTY sparked her hunger for that intellectually engaged community, and she’s pursued it ever since. “CTY was a turning point for me,” Jones says. “It allowed me to turn toward the direction I’ve taken and form the goals I have now. And I’ve never taken that for granted.”
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