USA – Illinois: CTD at Northwestern University


The Center for Talent Development (CTD) is part of the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University, a private university with over 16,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students located close to Chicago, Illinois.

The Center opened in 1982 when Joyce Van Tassel-Baska began the Midwest Academic Talent Search (NUMATS). The Director is Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, now a Professor in the School of Education. She first joined Northwestern in 1983, the year before CTD was officially established, becoming its Director in 1987.

The website suggests CTD employs 37 staff. Strikingly, all of the academic staff are female.

CTD’s mission statement says it:

‘exists to serve the gifted community and ensure that gifted students receive the education, encouragement and support they need to learn and grow into confident and accomplished adults whose love for learning grows stronger each year.’

and identifies four elements to its role:

  • talent identification, through the NUMATS talent search which uses above-grade testing which children in Grades 3-9
  • talent development, through a range of programmes for children and young people in pre-K to Grade 12
  • research, much of it focused on the potential of talent search provision, and
  • advocacy.

CTD’s programmes include:

  • NUMATS, which uses the EXPLORE, ACT and SAT tests to provide feedback on student performance and access to CTD learning opportunities for a fee of $70-80 depending on the test used. There are over 30,000 participants annually.
  • The Summer Program (pre-K to Grade 12), which incorporates 6 age-specific sub-programs ranging from half-day classes – for Pre-K to 3 – to 3-week courses for Grades 9-12.
  • The Saturday Enrichment Program for Pre-K to Grade 9, which takes place over 8 sessions in the Autumn Term or 6 sessions in the Spring Term and Accelerated Weekend Courses for Grades 5-9.
  • Gifted Learning Links (Grades K-12), a mix of online enrichment, high school honours, advanced placement and university credit courses which served over 1,500 students in 2010. The service uses the Blackboard platform. It also incorporates family learning programmes for younger children, student-led extracurricular clubs and Stanford University’s EPGY courses. Costs range from $95 to $2,500 per course.
  • A Civic Education Project (Grades 7-12) combining education and community service. This can be undertaken through a week-long course or a three-week summer school. The latter are offered in partnership with the Center for Talented Youth at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.
  • Scholarship Programs for Underrepresented students. These include:
    • The Jack Kent Cooke Young Scholars Program, a tailored support package starting in Grade 8 which is built around an individual learning plan and can include guidance on selecting a high school, summer school and enrichment opportunities, computer equipment, subject-specific support and guidance on college and careers. Participants have an average family income of $27,000.
    • Project BLAST, also offered in partnership with the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, for Grades 3-5 from families with low-to-moderate incomes, giving access to Saturday Enrichment Courses and a series of cultural excursions
    • Project EXCITE, supporting local ethnic minority students in maths and science across the six years from Grade 3 to Grade 8
    • Next Generation Venture Fund, a collaborative project also involving CTY, Duke University’s Talent Identification Program and the Denver Center for Bright Kids. It is designed to support students from diverse backgrounds into selective universities and on to challenging careers. Students follow a 4-year programme starting in Grade 9 and built around a personalised plan including SAT preparation, two summer schools hosted by universities and a week of business mentoring.
  • Programs for parents including an annual family conference and a series of Saturday Parent Seminars.
  • An annual educators’ conference, the Gifted Education Institute (a summer course for educators) and a Masters in Gifted Education and an Advanced Teaching Certificate run by the School of Education.

CTD also publishes a quarterly newsletter ‘Talent’.

CTD is clearly a substantial operation with a healthy turnover – some of its three week residential summer schools cost over $3,000 – and an exceptionally wide array of courses for gifted learners of all ages and backgrounds. By comparison, its support for educators is currently less well-developed. Its website is comprehensive, it is active on Facebook and Twitter and has recently launched its own blog ‘Talent Talk’.


February 2011

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