Developing Scholar Identity: The Dr. Martin Jenkins Scholars Program

Opportunities for highly gifted students abound across the nation. One of the options available is applying to selected academic awards programs. Selection and acceptance to such programs is not as simple as filling out a single application or presenting a single product. It also involves submission of evidence and preparation by the student that usually occurs over the course of a specified timeframe, such as a semester or perhaps an entire school year. To engage in this process, students oftentimes employ critical thinking to solve real-world problems and/or learn to collaboratively develop a capstone project product. Participation in the application process provides additional rigor and opportunity to challenge students outside of their traditional course of studies. Additional benefits include a student-centered complement to existing curriculum that is contextual and comprehensive. Further, implementation of the student preparation and application process within the curriculum can also foster the social and cultural support that is critical in the development and retention of culturally and linguistically diverse students in gifted education. Ford (2013a) asserted that recruitment and retention require providing academic, cultural, and social supports as well as educators and families advocating for them.

Dr. Martin D. Jenkins.png​Joy Lawson Davis and Donna Y. Ford worked for several years to revive the seminal but forgotten work of Dr. Martin D. Jenkins - the Father of Research on highly gifted Blacks. The works of Dr. Jenkins has been a critical source for many contemporary scholars as it relates to characteristics and manifestations of gifts for gifted Black students. In 2014, the Special Populations Network (SPN) of the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) inaugurated its first cohort of a select group of highly talented and gifted Black students from around the country. This group of students competed to become the first Dr. Martin Jenkins Scholars, an award designed to honor the achievements of highly talented and gifted Black students who excel in school. This awards program is highlighted here and offered as a framework for educators to connect application preparation to student process-skill development. Integrating student preparation strategies into instruction for such programs foster academic success and talent development within classrooms that is authentic, culturally responsive, and student centered.

The Jenkins Scholars Award Program

As SPN leaders celebrated the third and most recent cohort at NAGC’s 63rd national convention, the awards committee noted increased engagement of rigor, depth, and challenge experienced by students, parents, and teachers alike. Participants and their supporters reported that simply applying for this awards program increased awareness in terms of expectations, appropriate curriculum, and diverse pathways for achievement in nurturing the scholarly identity and talent development of the candidates. Even nominees that were not selected seemed to have benefited from participating in the application process as indicated by feedback and data analysis completed by the review board. This also confirms research findings that competitive honors, award, and co-curricular programs provide motivating experiences that support the promise of Black students (e.g., Collins, Curry, Marks, & Grantham, 2013).

For the Jenkins Scholar Awards Program, the eligibility criteria are aligned with NAGC gifted programming standards, which are also recommended for school districts to use for self-assessment of practices. The NAGC gifted programming standards were developed for educators of the gifted as reference for working with gifted learners with an emphasis on “affective development linked to self-understanding and social awareness” (NACG, 2010). Eligible Jenkins Scholars are Black students who may or may not have been formally identified as gifted. Teachers, mentors, and community leaders may nominate students from around the country in grades 6-12 starting in the latter part of the spring semester. Nominees must meet at least three of the six criteria as evidence of characteristics and behaviors associated with giftedness and high academic achievement:

  • Exceptional Test Scores
  • Grade Level Acceleration
  • Exemplary Co-Curricular Achievement
  • Early Entrance or Dual Enrollment
  • Exemplary School Work
  • State Competition Winner or beyond

Each candidate provides unique evidence in as many areas as s/he can through the submission of an application packet of artifacts, a personal statement, the nomination, and recommendations. Candidates are required to explain the significance of each item presented. Selected Jenkins Scholars currently receive a $300 cash award, NAGC convention registration, and a 1-year parent membership in NAGC and the Special Populations Network. The donor provided cash award is gifted to assist awardees in funding continued participation in enrichment and talent development activities of their choice. At the end of the school year, scholars are also expected to submit an end-of-year (EOY) update regarding self-reported accomplishments throughout the school year. Previous honorees submit an EOY report as well to include updated goals and enrichment plans for the following year. Because the scholars are aware of this at the time of their selection, they are mindful of it throughout the school year, promoting responsibility and ownership for their academic engagement.

Implications for Teachers & Program Coordinators

Competitive awards programs provide an excellent model and framework for learner outcomes that could easily be integrated with the current curriculum and/or implemented as supporting activities planned throughout the school year. The eligibility criteria serve as a guide for culturally responsive talent development as well as a teaching tool to enhance the current curriculum with a high standard of rigor, depth, and challenge. The student’s talents are developed in a student-centered and culturally responsive manner framed around positive school experiences that enhance the student’s scholarly identity as characterized by academic self efficacy, self-confidence, self-awareness, need for achievement, internal locus of control, willing to make sacrifices, and future orientation. (Whiting, 2009).

In our professional experience working with gifted youth and their parents to support Black students’ application process for honor and awards programs, we have found that an unexpected benefit of visibility, credibility, and affirmation of giftedness among students who are quite accomplished yet not formally identified as gifted also occurs. Particularly, Jenkins families who were not as familiar with the identification process and participation in gifted programming were empowered as advocates. They felt that once the awards committee officially notified administrators and other school personnel of the award received, the gifts and talents of their child were recognized and more appreciated by those that formally educate them.

This post by Kristina Henry Collins, Ph.D., and Tarek C. Grantham, Ph.D., is an exceprt of an article that will appear in the November 2017 issue of Teaching for High Potential

Awards, Honors, and Co-Curricular Programs



Grade Level

Dr.  Martin D. Jenkins Scholars (NAGC-SPN)

Featured: National Scholarship for Highly Talent & Gifted Black Students

Middle and High School Students (6-12)

Duke TIP

John Hopkins

Talent Search & Development Programs

PreK – 12th

American Society for Engineering Education: Engineering, Go For it (eGFI)


Resources for outreach programs and projects


Georgia Social Studies Fairs


Local, Regional, & State Participation

Intermediate, Middle and High School (5-12)

Health Occupations Students Association

National Health-related competitions & Co-curricular Activities

High School

Internet Science and Technology Fair by UCF College of Engineering and Computer Science

Research-based and STEM mentoring program

Elementary, Middle, and High School Students (3-12)

Jack Kent Cook Foundation

Scholarship/ Mentor & Scholars Program

Middle & High School, 2-yr & 4-yr college


National Economics Challenge

Economics Across Disciplines: State and National Teams Competitions

High School

National Service-learning Clearinghouse

Resource for best practices in developing, planning, & financing service learning

All Ages & Settings

Preparing for Highly Selective Colleges

Scope & Sequence Course Selection Recommendations

Middle and High School

The Scholar Identity Institute, Vanderbilt University in collaboration with schools or community organizations.

The 100 Black Men of Middle Tennessee

Two-week summer session/ 100 Kings Mentor and Scholars Program

Middle and High School African American Males

Science, Engineering, Communications, Mathematics Enrichment

Nation-wide Multidisciplinary STEM-integrated  Program

Elementary, Middle, and High School Students

Governor’s Honors Program

(Check your state’s educational honor program details) 

Residential Program for Gifted Students

Rising HS Juniors and Senior



Collins, K., Curry, D., Marks, K., & Grantham, T. (2013). Equity in STEM talent development for ethnic minority students. The Update: The Association for the Gifted, 2013 (Summer), 1-4.

Ford, D.Y. (2013a). Recruiting and retaining culturally different students in gifted education. Waco, Texas: Prufrock Press.

Husid, W. & Wallace, V. (2015). The capstone e-portfolio: Showcasing critical thinking and building identities. Library Media Connection, 33(6), 40-42.                                                                                                          

Johnson, L. F., Smith, R., Smythe, J .T.,  & Varon, R. K. (2009). Challenge-based learning: An approach for our time. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

Paddison, B. & Mortimer, C. (2016). Authenticating the learning environment. Journal Of Teaching In Travel & Tourism, 16(4), 331-350.

National Association for Gifted Children (2010). PreK-Grade 12 programming standards. Retrieved from

Whiting, G, W. (2006). From at risk to at promise: Developing scholar identities among Black males, Journal of Secondary Gifted Education, 17, 222-229.