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Released April 16, 2004


HATTIESBURG -- Twenty-five years ago, Dr. Frances Karnes had a vision for advancing opportunities for gifted youth.

Today, the University of Southern Mississippi gifted education professor shows no signs of slowing down in pursuit of that vision through her work as director of The Frances A. Karnes Center for Gifted Education, which celebrates its silver anniversary of providing a wide range of specialized instructional programs for the intellectually gifted, the academically talented and for young people with leadership potential.

"It's been a wonderful opportunity to serve students, their parents, teachers, counselors and special education program developers," Karnes said of her time as director of the center.

The occurrence of two important events orchestrated by Karnes prior to the initiation of the center helping to pave the way for its accomplishments should be acknowledged.

First, the Mississippi Legislature, responding to the needs of gifted children, amended the law to provide a legal basis for funding gifted education programs and subsequently appropriating funds for that purpose. Second, parents of the gifted, teachers, and other interested citizens from throughout the state also responded by uniting as active members of a new advocacy organization, the Mississippi Association for Gifted Children, of which Karnes was the founder and first president.

State representative Lee Jarrell Davis of Hattiesburg said Karnes has been an invaluable asset in sharing her experience and expertise with him and other legislators on issues concerning gifted education.

"Dr. Karnes is a tremendous asset to (Southern Miss) and Mississippi regarding gifted education," he said. "She's been very helpful in informing me about the state's needs regarding legislation affecting gifted education."

Davis said he has participated as a guest speaker at the center's summer leadership workshops, and described the programs as excellent opportunities for young people. "Not only in Mississippi, but in different states across the country, I hear people talking about the work they do at the center," Davis said. "They've been very impressed, and it just tickles me to hear when they say they want to send their kids back to participate in the center's programs."

The work of the center has encompassed a wide array of initiatives. The first task undertaken by the faculty and staff was the design, implementation, and evaluation of specialized instructional programs for the intellectually gifted, the academically talented, and for all youth with leadership potential. As a result of continuing efforts, the innovative and challenging programs developed and validated have been replicated at other colleges and universities and in public schools across the state and nation.

The center has also been responsive to the critical need for highly qualified teachers of the gifted in public and private schools and for college and university faculty with strong preparation at the advanced graduate level. The University of Southern Mississippi is one of a select few institutions in the country to offer master's, specialist, and doctoral degrees with an emphasis in gifted education. Many former graduate students have become instructional leaders in elementary and secondary schools. Doctoral students have readily obtained excellent positions in colleges and universities throughout the United States and abroad.

Twice each academic year, teachers of the gifted in public and private schools of Mississippi and adjoining states meet on the Southern Miss campus for intensive workshops devoted to developing strategies for meeting the unique needs of gifted and talented youth. Additionally, the annual Parenting Gifted Children Conference, held for the past 20 years has attracted parents, grandparents, teachers, counselors, and other advocates for the gifted from throughout the region.

Dr. Lance Faler, a Hattiesburg radiologist, who took part in the center's summer and Saturday Gifted Education programs, and says his participation was a valuable addition to his academic experience as a young man.

"The reason I liked the programs was they offered things you didn't get in school at that time, such as computer programming," he said. "They also offered opportunities to study things that were not considered mainstream subjects at my age level, and that's what was different. I was around people interested in the same things that I was."

The center's programs offer academically talented students a chance to accelerate their learning in ways they may not have access to in their own school, Faler said. "I think these programs are important for the children of Mississippi," he said. "It promotes the education of our future leaders, our doctors, attorneys and writers… it's an important thing for our state."

Faler praised Karnes for her devotion to the needs of the gifted and for her contributions to research in the field. "She's just a wonderful person," he said. "That's the best way to sum it up. She has absolutely devoted her life to these kids, and the research she has done has been impressive."

The research conducted by the center personnel has been widely reported in numerous journals. These publications have provided a broad audience with a better understanding of gifted and talented children and their distinguishing characteristics. Such research and publications have benefitted professionals who plan and conduct challenging programs to meet the unique needs of the gifted. The extensive investigation of legal issues and the gifted, reported in the only three books ever published on this subject, has helped influence public policy pertaining to the gifted.

"Our accomplishments to date can be attributed in large part to the many outstanding graduate students and other capable and dedicated people who have worked in the center during the past 25 years," Karnes said. "Credit is also due to continuing support provided by administrators and by the many colleagues from academic and service departments who have collaborated with the center or rendered assistance, and a great deal of gratitude is extended for the valuable time contributed and the fiscal support provided by the many individuals from the public and private sectors."

Dr. Willie Pierce, interim dean of the Southern Miss College of Education and Psychology, said, "We're looking forward to celebrating the center's 25 years, especially the outstanding work of Dr. Karnes."

For more information about the center and its programs, and for information about events related to this year's 25th anniversary, call (601) 266-5236.


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM