For nearly 50 years, the Mensa Foundation awards program has recognized researchers, academics, educators, and creative individuals who use their intelligence to benefit humanity. We exist, in part, to advocate for those who inspire and innovate — those who demonstrate a commitment to the pursuit of excellence in human intelligence.
In 2020, we’re honored to recognize a pioneer in the field of intelligence research, innovators whose creations serve to benefit disadvantaged individuals, researchers whose groundbreaking discoveries advance our understanding of the human body and mind, and educators who seek to ensure that the identification of gifted individuals is fair, equitable, and free of bias. Please join us in celebrating the winners of the Mensa Foundation’s 2020 awards, fellowships, and grants.
Dr. James Robert Flynn has spent an academic lifetime providing surprising and illuminating answers to the question “What is intelligence?” Originally from Washington, D.C., and educated at the University of Chicago, Dr. Flynn immigrated in 1963 to New Zealand, where he is Professor Emeritus at the University of Otago.
In research and in numerous books, Dr. Flynn integrates psychology and political and moral philosophy to explore race, class, and IQ, advocating for meritocracy and racial equality of rights. His pioneering research into substantial gains in IQ scores across the 20th century yielded the “Flynn effect,” which essentially explains that IQ measures not how smart we are but how modern we are.
“If the everyday world is your cognitive home,” Dr. Flynn writes, “it is not natural to detach abstractions and logic and the hypothetical from their concrete referents.”
German Rodriguez is a software developer and computer science professor in Mexico where more than 2.4 million people have hearing disabilities. Sign language is a key communication tool for them, but, Rodriguez knows, whenever one’s speech is impeded, for any reason, the possibility of achieving true social fulfillment is significantly reduced.
He developed the first app to translate in realtime images of Mexican Sign Language into text and voice. The native Android app uses a mobile device’s camera to capture images of signing, which are then processed for sign recognition using Haar-like feature classifiers.
“The benefit of this mobile application could mean a significant improvement in social inclusion, because it opens the possibility of communication with all sectors of the population and facilitates access to all services and resources for all people,” Rodriguez said.
Dr. Paul Lorin Bechly’s first career as a chemical engineer at DuPont presented him with what he describes as “the most intellectually challenging assignment of my life.” During his time at DuPont, research was beginning to indicate how perfluorocarbon gases, once considered ideal for industrial use, were major contributors to global warming.
Tasked with researching the environmental impacts of these specialty fluorochemicals, Dr. Bechly directed a roundtable of stakeholders to develop and implement responsible environmental corporate policies to eliminate PFC emissions. As a result of his work, Dr. Bechly was awarded DuPont’s Environmental Excellence Award in 1992, and provisions to control PFC emissions were made a part of “The Climate Change Action Plan” signed by President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore.
Dr. Kenneth Y. Wertheim sums up clinicians’ current lack of a systems-level understanding of immunology in one word: “nonlinearity.” With few direct relationships between its dependent and independent variables, the only constant among the immune system’s physical, chemical, and biological reactions is their unpredictability.
As a research associate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Dr. Wertheim led a team of researchers to divide and conquer the immune system’s essential mechanisms and devised a novel algorithm to integrate these disparate models over length and time.
“The immediate task is upscaling,” Dr. Wertheim said. “Immune cell types other than CD4+ T cells must be modeled to complete the virtual immune system. Once the virtual immune system is complete, there is infinite potential in terms of applications.”
Aakash Chowkase has taught gifted youth for 13 years and is passionate about advocating for gifted education.
After completing a master’s in education at the Azim Premji University in Bangalore, India, he joined the faculty at the Jnana Prabodhini’s Institute of Psychology, where he founded India’s first post-graduate diploma in gifted education. He is currently a Dean’s Doctoral Research Fellow at Purdue University, where he plans to conduct a longitudinal research and mentoring project with rural and tribal Mensa students in India.
Lisa M. Lewis completed a master’s of elementary education at Old Dominion University while serving in the military and is currently pursuing a certification in Gifted Education from Liberty University.
“Being a teacher is a promise to make sure that every student will have the foundation to reach their full potential,” writes Lewis.
This belief has guided her mission to support her students regardless of differences in health functions, mental abilities, and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Dr. Kenneth S. Walters mentors, and conducts research at Southern Connecticut State University, which he joined in 2012 after seven years in private psychology practice and two prior academic appointments.
“The fact of the matter is that I would not still be pursuing my passion for science, psychology, and an academic career if not for his support and guidance,” wrote Central New Jersey Mensa’s Paul McKee, who nominated Dr. Walters for the award. “During the past 11 years, he has mentored 38 research assistants. All have achieved successful careers. I am proud to be among them.”
Dr. Steve Coxon, Associate Professor of Gifted Education and Executive Director of the Center for Access and Achievement (CA2) at Maryville University in St. Louis, has dedicated his career to identifying and serving traditionally underrepresented gifted students.
As chair of an advisory committee on gifted learners in Missouri, Dr. Coxon was instrumental in creating a statewide policy to ensure that identification of gifted students and entrance to gifted education programs is equitable for Missouri’s 883,000 students.
Dr. Lisa M. Ridgley will be studying how inequity in gifted education is a ubiquitous concern for gifted educators, practitioners, and researchers.
Black, Hispanic, low-income, and twice-exceptional students might be underrepresented in gifted programs because they are missed during gifted identification procedures. Dr. Ridgley’s study will engage in a large-scale collaborative effort to explore teacher nominations and involve not only a larger sample of teachers but greater representation of students from diverse backgrounds.
Recognizing outstanding research on aspects of human intelligence and giftedness, this year’s recipients are:
Dr. Russell T. Warne, Utah Valley University: “Spearman’s g Found in 31 Non-Western Nations: Strong Evidence That g Is a Universal Phenomenon,” (coauthor Cassidy Burningham)
Dr. Kira O. McCabe, Vanderbilt University: “Who Shines Most Among the Brightest: A 25-Year Long Longitudinal Study of Elite SWTEM Graduate Students,” (co-author David Lubinski)