From the bottom up, Leonard Cooper may have been the hippest-looking smart guy on campus this week. Wearing Converse-style sneakers, his head topped with a voluminous afro, he delivered a keynote address to appreciative seventh graders packed into UALR’s Center for Performing Arts May 16.
Students from across Arkansas came to receive awards through the Duke University Talent Identification Program (TIP), which supports academically gifted seventh graders based on standardized test scores earned in elementary or middle school.
Cooper, a 17-year-old Little Rock native who participated in the TIP program as a seventh grader, became an overnight sensation when he won the Teen Jeopardy tournament earlier this year, bringing home the $75,000 grand prize.
The self-effacing teen, winner of the highly competitive Gates Millenium scholarship, told the students to study hard but also to nurture their hobbies and interests outside of academics.
UALR has been the site of the Duke TIP Awards Recognition Day since Arkansas joined the Duke Talent Search in the 1980s. The campus played host to the nearly 1,000 seventh-grade students and families who arrived on campus for the annual event on Thursday.
At least one state recognition ceremony is held in each of the states with the largest Talent Search enrollments. In Arkansas, 587 students qualified for the recognition ceremony of the 1,196 who tested.
Dr. Ann Robinson, director of UALR’s Jodie Mahony Center for Gifted Education, said the award ceremony is a joint effort between UALR and Duke University, supported by the UALR Office of the Provost.
Provost Zulma Toro delivered opening remarks for the ceremony.
UALR adds own scholars day
In 2007, the Mahony Center established UALR’s Talent Search Scholars Day to showcase UALR faculty and programs to a college-bound cohort of students and their families.
Held in conjunction with the ceremony honoring Duke scholars, the event is a UALR program organized and administered through the Mahony Center, which invites UALR faculty from high profile programs that appeal to up-and-coming scholars.
“We ask faculty to prepare a day of engaging activities for the students,” Robinson said. “As director of the center, I offer simultaneous sessions for parents who often have lots of questions about developing their child’s interests, talents, and motivations.”
Jeremy Chamberlain, a Ph.D. biology student who works in the lab of UALR Assistant Professor Matthew Gifford, was one of the researchers who sought to engage a group of talented students gathered in a Stabler Hall classroom on Thursday afternoon.
As his pet boa constrictor was being passed among the students, Chamberlain spoke of the differences between reptiles and amphibians. On the large white board behind him were written such didactic short phrases as “skin vs. scales” and “claws vs. toes.”
To further illustrate the point, several native species of reptiles and amphibians were trotted out from their small containers on a table near the front of the room for the students, who diligently answered Chamberlain’s flurry of questions.
“Nailed it again,” Chamberlain responded, enthusiastically.
Long after his interactive session with the students had formally ended, the group asked more questions about Chamberlain’s interest in herpetology and even bestowed a befitting nickname for the boa–Mr. Squeeze.
Other TIPsters also had the opportunity to learn about plaster casting, nanotechnology, music composition, and a host of other activities.
The Duke TIP day and UALR Talent Search Scholars Day is held each May.