Dr. Julian Stanley, 2000 Lifetime Achievement Award winner

You may know a seventh-grader who recently took the SAT exams. Or maybe you took them yourself when you were in seventh grade. It’s all Julian Stanley’s fault.

Dr. Stanley, professor emeritus at Johns Hopkins University, has done more to change the way gifted middle schoolers are educated than any other individual, and as a result he was selected by the Mensa Foundation as the winner of its first Lifetime Achievement Award.

For many years, the foundation has presented Awards for Excellence in Research to scholars who have performed outstanding research in the field of human intelligence. During this time, Dr. Stanley has won more of these awards than any other researcher, so when the foundation decided to create a new prize to recognize lifetime achievement in that field, he was a natural choice as its first recipient.

The award was presented at a special reception at the Johns Hopkins Club hosted by the University’s Department of Psychology. Among the speakers were the department chair, the current head of the University’s Study of Exceptional Talent, a medical student who was one of the seventh-grade beneficiaries of Dr. Stanley’s program, the father of the gifted student whose plight turned Dr. Stanley’s interests toward programs for the gifted, and the professor himself.

“The fact that Johns Hopkins University created a special event for the presentation of this award shows the prestige that Mensa and the foundation have achieved in the academic research community,” said Foundation President Dr. Michael Jacobson. “For Mensans, and for gifted people everywhere, research into intelligence is of great importance, and those who devote their careers to it should be recognized for their work. Julian Stanley has no doubt done more to change the education of gifted teenagers in America than any other person, and I think it is quite fitting that he should be the first recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award.”

Linda Brody, director of the Study of Exceptional Talent, said, ”It is impossible to exaggerate the impact Julian Stanley’s work has had on creating opportunities for gifted students in our country. His work on behalf of gifted students during the last 30 years has profoundly influenced the lives of thousands of gifted children and led to the establishment of programmatic models that will be in place for generations to come. His research has increased our understanding of the characteristics and needs of gifted children, and he serves as role model for educators and researchers everywhere who are interested in this population.”

Dr. Stanley was a well-established and highly respected quantitative psychologist in 1970 when the parents of a 13-year-old boy came to him in desperation. Their son was brilliant but doing poorly in school. Dr. Stanley suggested that the boy take the SAT and, based on his scores, was able to arrange for him to enter Johns Hopkins. This pivotal event was the catalyst for a mid-career change for Dr. Stanley, and in 1971 he obtained funding to establish the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY) to find other young prodigies and help them achieve their potential.

SMPY sponsored talent searches using the SAT with 7th and 8th graders, counseled individual precocious students and their parents, and produced newsletters. Dr. Stanley piloted a variety of program models, such as fast-paced math classes (one of which offered a course in a single day!) and summer programs, helped start a program for verbally gifted students, and became an advocate for creating a “smorgasbord of opportunities” for gifted students. All of these programs were research-based, enabling Dr. Stanley to produce an enormous number of papers in a field that had been virtually overlooked.

In 1979 Dr. Stanley established the Center for Talented Youth (CTY) as a separate entity at Johns Hopkins to run the talent searches and summer programs, and helped establish similar programs at Duke University, Northwestern University and the University of Denver.

Today, CTY tests about 90,000 students per year, and Duke, Northwestern, and Denver also sponsor regional talent searches. Including other state and local efforts and initiatives in other countries, at least 200,000 students participate in talent searches each year using the Johns Hopkins model. CTY offers rigorous academic courses to about 8,000 students each summer and distance learning courses throughout the year. This model has also been replicated by other universities, so that teenagers taking academic courses are now a common sight on college campuses throughout the country.

Dr. Stanley’s interest in early college programs has led to the creation of programs for young entrants at colleges around the country, and to increased numbers of high school students taking AP courses. In 1971, when SMPY was founded, 57,000 students took 74,000 AP exams. In 1999, 700,000 students took more than 1,000,000 exams. His advocacy for acceleration, rather than only enrichment, for gifted students has influenced many of his colleagues, in addition to the numerous graduate and postdoctoral students he has trained. Many of these students have won the foundation’s Awards for Excellence in Research on their own.

According to Linda Brody, followup studies attest to the tremendous influence these special opportunities have had on individual students. They point to programs that nurtured their love of learning, exposed them to intellectual peers, encouraged them to strive for higher goals, and gave them the tools to achieve those goals.

The medical student who spoke at the reception told of the effects Dr. Stanley and the programs he developed have had on his life, and expressed gratitude and affection for Dr. Stanley. The father of that 13-year-old boy who sent the professor on a mid-career change that changed the world of gifted education echoed his words with his own personal story.

As with all foundation programs, funding for these awards is made possible by donations from Mensa members and others interested in human intelligence and giftedness.

The Mensa Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award is presented every other year in recognition of a lifetime of contributions to the field of intelligence and related subjects.