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Released October 12, 2004

By Daphne Alford

HATTIESBURG - A Nashville attorney was on recess from the courtroom to pay tribute to a person's vision that helped pave the way for his successful law career. Hattiesburg native Tracy Powell, a 1986 graduate of The University of Southern Mississippi, is one of 6,000 students who have gone through the doors of the Frances A. Karnes Center for Gifted Studies. He is also among the first alumni of Southern Miss' programs for young gifted students.

On Oct. 11, Powell was an honored guest who celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Karnes Center during a dinner at the Grand Casino Biloxi, which sponsored the event.

"I still recall fondly the unique and enjoyable learning experience," said Powell, who was a participant in the SHARP Program in the summer of 1977. "I was exposed to new and interesting things in a special learning environment, and I believe that this experience was an important building block in my personal and professional success."

In 1974, programs and other endeavors in gifted education were initiated at Southern Miss, where the Center for Gifted Studies was established in 1979 to further the education of gifted students and those with leadership abilities through teaching, research and service. The program was dedicated as the Frances A. Karnes Center for Gifted Studies 20 years later.

Today, the program offers a variety of services to include instructional programs and leadership concepts and skills for gifted students, beginning with pre-kindergarteners. Several hundred teachers have received training and in-service instruction for gifted education through programs, along with an annual conference for parents of gifted youth and other concerned adults.

The Saturday and summer gifted programs not only attract participants statewide and locally, but there is also a high representation of gifted students from neighboring states as well as students from all over the United States.

"I did feel that we would have longevity and success when the program began 25 years ago," said Dr. Frances Karnes, namesake and director of the gifted program and professor of curriculum, instruction and special education at Southern Miss. "I didn't want to start anything that wasn't going to be highly successful. I wanted to serve children and youth, teachers, parents and other professionals. I wanted to be able to share ideas on a much broader basis through my writings and publications."

Karnes has co-authored 25 books and published 250 professional publications and professional journals.

In addition to the children's programs, Southern Miss has graduated about 20 doctoral students who have majored in special education with an emphasis in gifted studies. Graduate degree programs with an emphasis area in gifted education are provided at the master's, specialist's and doctoral levels. Karnes has also provided specific training for teachers who need certification in the area of gifted education.

"I see the program growing in numbers by serving more children, teachers, parents and writing more about the key issues in education," Karnes said. "We want to enhance everything that we are doing and are open to suggestions."

With the help of strong supporters like U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, R-Miss., who has been responsible for three federally funded grants at the Southern Miss center, the program has been recognized at the state and national levels for its outstanding contributions. Karnes said Cochran was also instrumental in sponsoring the Jacob K. Javits Gifted Education Act. Javits, an advocate for gifted education, was a New York congressman.

"The research and special programs at the Frances A. Karnes Center for Gifted Studies help students have better opportunities, help educators increase their understanding of gifted teaching, and most importantly, help lay the foundation for a new kind of education for all American students, " said Cochran.

A part of the yearlong anniversary celebrations, the fund-raising dinner launched the Frances A. Karnes Endowed Chair. The need and purpose of this fund was noted by Dr. Willie Pierce, dean of the College of Education and Psychology at Southern Miss. It is established to recognize visionary leadership and promote academic excellence.

Another former student of Karnes, Dr. Michael Herrington, an oncologist with Hattiesburg Clinic, started the endowed chair with a $500,000 life insurance policy. The fund is established at The University of Southern Mississippi Foundation to generate an income for the endowment to help strengthen and enhance the teaching, research and service agendas of the Frances A. Karnes Center for Gifted Studies. The recipient of this fund will be an established scholar with a successful record of engaging undergraduates and graduate students in meaningful research experiences.

The USM Foundation is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation that serves as a fiduciary of all private funds donated to Southern Miss.

For more information or to donate to the Frances A. Karnes Endowed Chair in Gifted Education, contact Southern Miss' College of Education and Psychology development officer, Ben Samel, at (601) 266-5481.


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November 23, 2004 9:23 AM