Award from Jack Kent Cooke Foundation will help students in rural Iowa
Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Susan Assouline, director of the University of Iowa College of Education's Belin Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development, has received a $500,000 Talent Development Award from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, the nation’s largest scholarship foundation, to expand the center’s STEM Excellence and Literacy (SEAL) program.

Susan Assouline
Susan Assouline

The grant will be used over the next three years to help 330 high-ability, low-income middle school students living in rural, low-resource school districts in Iowa to participate in a rigorous after-school math and science enrichment program.

By expanding the mathematics and science curricula in participating school districts and enhancing teachers’ abilities to raise the academic rigor in their classrooms, SEAL is expected to help close the achievement gap between rural and low-income students and their more affluent, urban counterparts.

“So much of what we do is about access. We want to inspire students.”
—Susan Assouline,
Belin Blank Center Director

"So much of what we do is about access," says Assouline. "We want to inspire students."

SEAL is modeled after a six-year pilot project called Iowa Excellence that began in 2003 and involved five rural school districts. Through that project, Assouline discovered students could double their academic achievement by adding 10 percent more learning time to their day through after-school programs.

“It raised achievement and aspirations,” she says.

Historically, rural areas have lacked access to challenging opportunities in math and science, putting development of academic talent among student there at risk, especially in STEM. Assouline believes an intervention program such as SEAL will help rural students reach new academic heights.

“Every student deserves the opportunity to reach their full potential, and that starts with a strong education,” says Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. “This award will make a tremendous difference in leveling the playing field for low-income Iowa students, especially those in rural school districts. A child’s zip code should never limit their educational opportunities, and this award will help ensure that students have the foundation needed to pursue a college education and a bright future. I congratulate the University of Iowa on this award, and I commend the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation on their recognition of Iowa’s leadership in education.”

SEAL is designed to improve student-outcomes in middle school STEM courses, prepare participants for success and boost their enrollment in Advanced Placement (AP) math and science courses in high school. Ultimately, SEAL will prepare students academically and social-emotionally, for advanced coursework, which will prepare them for university life.

“With this award, we are changing the life trajectories of high-achieving but low-income students early enough in their educations to make a real difference,” says Harold O. Levy, executive director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. “By enabling these gifted students to further their math and science educations in schools that otherwise lack the resources to do so, we will not only provide a model for how to tackle achievement disparities in American education but also ultimately open the doors for them to selective colleges that otherwise might have remained closed.”

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation is dedicated to advancing the education of exceptionally promising students who have financial need. Because the foundation believes that high-potential, low-income students will excel educationally when given the resources to develop their talents, it supports exceptional students from elementary school to graduate school through scholarships, grants and direct service.

To read a related story, see Stimulating interest in STEM statewide.