The Mensa Foundation has selected Dr. Camilla Benbow, Dean of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University's Peabody College, as the recipient of its 2004 Lifetime Achievement Award.
Mensa Foundation president Greg Timmers, Vanderbilt Chancellor Gordon Gee and Vanderbilt Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Nicholas S. Zeppos made a surprise appearance at Peabody's first faculty meeting of the academic year to give Benbow — an unknowing recipient — the award. Benbow's mentor, Julian Stanley, Johns Hopkins University professor of psychology, emeritus, also surprised her by attending the brief award ceremony.
The award consists of a showcase medal and $1,000. An issue of the Mensa Research Journal will also be dedicated to some of Benbow's selected research articles.
According to the award notification letter sent to Gee by the Mensa Foundation, "Only outstanding professionals who have contributed a lifetime of scholarly pursuits in intelligence, giftedness or creativity are eligible for the award." Stanley was the first recipient of the award.
In his presentation, Timmers cited Benbow's "holding high expectations for people she works with, her education policy and advocacy efforts and her focus on turning research strategies into human successes" as particularly impressive aspects of her career.
"I am so overwhelmed. This is an exceptional honor, and I can't think of a better place to receive an award than here with all of my colleagues," Benbow said.
Benbow's scholarship has concentrated primarily on gifted children in an effort to identify different types of academically talented adolescents, characterize them and then discover effective ways to facilitate their development. Her work in the educational policy arena has focused on equity and ensuring the optimal development of all children through individualized educational services that capitalize on strengths, build on high expectations, promote competence and focus on results.
Benbow’s long-term study — the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth — with colleague and husband Vanderbilt professor David Lubinski, examines the developmental trajectories of more than 5,000 individuals and the impact of education over their life span. The study is in its fourth decade and will continue until at least its 50th year.
The youth study officially started under Stanley in 1971 at Johns Hopkins University. From 1986 to 1998, Benbow directed the study while it was located at Iowa State University. The study is now located at Peabody College where Benbow co-directs the effort with Lubinski.
In addition to studying academic talent development, she is interested in precocity's fundamental nature. In collaboration with other investigators, she is seeking to understand advanced academic development from multiple perspectives, including the different ways in which verbally versus mathematically precocious youth process verbal and numerical information.