JKCF Grantee Belin-Blank Lays Foundation for STEM Program


In January, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation awarded the Talent Development Award to the Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development at The University of Iowa to implement the STEM Excellence and Leadership program. The Cooke Foundation’s Talent Development Award recognizes exemplary practices that transform high-potential, economically disadvantaged elementary and middle school students into high achievers, thus narrowing the “excellence gap” – the disparity in the percent of lower-income versus high income student who reach advanced levels of academic performance.

The grant-funded program, designed for students in grades 6-8, has two major components: an extracurricular enrichment curriculum in mathematics and science for high-ability middle school students, and a professional development program for teachers to help them better serve these students. The goal of the program is to discover students early and provide an intervention of specialized programming to promote their academic and social-emotional development.


Lori M. Ihrig, Ph.D., the center’s supervisor for curriculum and instruction, reports that the project is off to a phenomenal start. In January, they launched the STEM Excellence and Leadership program website and accepted their inaugural round of partnership applications from rural schools across the state, and in February, they selected 11 of these schools to be their founding partners.

In March, the center convened district partners for a STEM Excellence and Leadership summit. The purpose of the summit was to give district partners a more detailed overview of program implementation and to provide educational support so districts could better understand and implement their talent development strategies.


Since then, each school district has provided information to parents and students about the program, identified students to test for admission, and scheduled in-school testing dates.

Nearly 300 students have already registered for testing through the STEM Excellence and Leadership program. The first cohort of students will be selected in early summer. During the summer, program coordinators and math and science teachers will receive professional development to further their understanding of giftedness and prepare them to implement the program curriculum. This support will continue beyond the summer via the University of Iowa’s online learning platform.

We look forward to sharing more as the project progresses. Stay tuned!


To learn more about STEM Excellence and Leadership program:

To learn more about the excellence gap, visit: