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Duke's Talent Identification Helps Assure Students with Their Gift

Posted July 24, 1999

— On the campus of one of the nation's most prestigious universities,Duke University, it is easy to find some of the country's brightest young minds. But in summer, some of those minds are even younger than usual.

Seventh and eighth grade students from across the south and eastern United States come to Duke for a special program. Their stellar standardized test scores earn them invitations toDuke's Talent Identification Program.

"We really see this group of children as among America's greatest natural resource," says TIP Executive Director Steven Pfeiffer. "We don't want them to go unattended."

Peter Osterland, 13, of suburban Dallas, Texas is at the TIP Program. When he was 12, the aspiring astronomer got a perfect score on the math section of the SAT. That is an achievement that exceeds well over 99 percent of all students, years older, who are entering college.

"As I get the opportunity to increase in knowledge, I want to do it so I can know even more," Osterland said.

Whether it's Algebra II, Shakespeare or robotics, intellectual "phenoms," such as Gabriel Gonzalez of San Antonio, will cover the equivalent of one year's high school class work or a college semester in just three weeks' time.

"I just have to understand," says Gonzalez. "It is like even at night before I sleep, my mind just fills with thoughts."

Among the 13-year-old's thoughts: his desire to use math to create a perfect ecosystem.

"You start with single cell organisms," he says. "If in a carnivore, predator-prey system, if the prey increases enough, would each one go to the extreme numbers or would they both be extinct?"

"(We are) working on their motivation, their excitement, their feeling good about themselves," Pfeiffer said.

Pfeiffer says the gifted program strives to nurture youngsters who may be considered "nerds."

Outside the accelerated classes, students like 14-year-old Benjamin Pahl of Durham unwind in the Duke dorms. It is a challenging, fast-paced environment beyond their years. A three-week leap from middle school to college, and this time, the playing field is packed with their intellectual peers.

"I get to know kids as smart as I am, some even smarter," Osterland says. "It is just really cool."

The higher goal of this higher learning is to send these smart kids home rejuvenated and self-assured in their gift.


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