Studying gifted young people

Noel Jett (Photo by Gary Payne)Noel Jett is the perfect person to study for a doctorate in gifted and talented young people.

After all, she's 16 years old. And she will be entering the University of North Texas this fall to pursue her Ph.D. in educational psychology. She earned her bachelor's degree in psychology from Texas A&M University in May. Her own experience as a gifted child has been challenging at times, and she hopes to research ways to make it easier for others.

"As a gifted person, I want to know how people like me work," she says.

Growing up

Jett, who grew up in Fort Worth, has been on a different pace from her peers since kindergarten.

"Being a gifted kid created a sort of language barrier when I was younger," she says. "In kindergarten, other students were learning their letters. I was reading chapter books."

Her mother, Nancy Shastid, home-schooled Jett for much of her youth. At age 12, she attended the Texas Academy of Biomedical Sciences in the Fort Worth ISD, a program that prepares students for a career in biomedical sciences with high school and college courses, for a semester. Then she spent a year and a half at Tarrant County College before attending Texas A&M.

Most of the other college students didn't know her age. At 5'6", Jett was taller than many female students. 

"I never stood out that much," she says. "I was relieved that I blended in. I was there for an education, not to be an anomaly."

Though she didn't go to prom, she did attend the "ring dance" for the graduating class at A&M. But she couldn't drive or participate in a Study Abroad program. She lived with her mother in off-campus housing.

"I feel like I definitely skipped the high school experience, and I have no regrets," she says.

When she's not concentrating on school, she enjoys watching movies, writing poetry, playing piano and painting. She won $25,000 during the "Whiz Kids Week" on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? last year.

Jett is looking forward to living in off-campus housing in Denton with her mother, at least until she's a bit older.

"I'm a big music nerd," she says. "I'm excited to take part in the Denton-y culture."

Studying the students

Jett will fit right in at UNT. In fact, when Jett first contacted Anne Rinn-McCann, associate professor of educational psychology at UNT, Rinn-McCann originally thought Jett was a traditional college-aged student until they met because she had no reason to think otherwise. Jett told Rinn-McCann she was a current student at A&M and she assumed she was in her early 20s.

But when some people find out about her high intelligence, they have different reactions.

"It's honestly a coin toss," Jett says. "Some people say, 'That's so cool.' Other people are so defensive – 'Well, my kid makes straight As.'"

Others have perceptions of what a gifted person should study. One person told her, "You need to find the cure for cancer."

"That sort of weird pressure is a reality for a lot of gifted people," Jett says.

In another instance, she bumped into someone her age that she knew from church. After Jett told a joke, the friend told her, "You know, you're so smart, sometimes I forget you're human!"

"She had labeled me 'smart' and it had erased everything else about me," Jett says. "I was a trope and there wasn't room in that pigeonhole to be funny, so my joke threw her off. These experiences all illustrate the same problem with the perception of gifted people, which is the removal of humanity in order to embrace one feature as the only feature. For those who accelerate through grades, it can be a similar pain with age being the defining and distracting trait instead of an actual trait."

Jett is extremely grateful for the Davidson Institute for Talented Development, an organization that supports intelligent young people with numerous programs. Through the group, she can talk to people who are her age and share her abilities in annual "summits" in person and via Skype in between the summits.

"We get to be ourselves," she says.

Jett's experiences inspired her to study other gifted children. She chose to attend UNT for its strong educational psychology program. The department's 25 faculty members have prominent roles in national and international organizations and journals, says Abbas Tashakkori, professor and chair of the educational psychology department.

Full-time students on assistantship in the doctoral program take courses in the first year and rotate teaching, service and research in the second and third years. In their fourth and final year, they work on their dissertation. (They earn their master's degree as part of the program.)

"With gifted individuals, their minds often work faster and develop faster than their bodies," Rinn-McCann says. "They may be physically one age, but cognitively they're much more advanced. It can be difficult if they don't have support or don't understand what's happening."

Even though she hasn't picked just one topic to research, Jett knows she would like to focus on the social and emotional needs of gifted young people.

"I have always wanted to help people," she says. "I want to be with people and tangibly see how I've helped them."

22 comments

WOW

I am very proud of all you have accomplished. I see that you are interested in learning about the Denton music scene... I would be more than happy to show you a good time on the square...When you are 18 of course ;) hit me up

Comment #1 posted by Dylan Hamlin (not verified) 2 years 3 weeks ago.

That is very impressive, kik?

Comment #2 posted by Dylan Hamlin (not verified) 2 years 3 weeks ago.

Very exciting for Noel! The editor might want to fix the grammatical error in the article: "She choose to attend UNT for its strong educational psychology program." I believe it should be "chose."

Comment #3 posted by Anonymous (not verified) 2 years 3 weeks ago.

Noel, take the time to enjoy your pursuits in higher education. Best of luck to you always!

Comment #4 posted by Lykoehler (not verified) 2 years 3 weeks ago.

Noel,
As a mother of a gifted child, I appreciate that you are focusing on the emotional and social needs of gifted young people. It is sad to see individuals suffer from loneliness as they do not relate or connect meaningfully with peers - or even their own family members - due to drastically different intelligence levels. I wish you the best!

Comment #5 posted by Kimberly (not verified) 2 years 3 weeks ago.

Wow! How impressive! I admire everything about your drive and dedication! I wish you the best during your studies!!!

Comment #6 posted by Anonymous (not verified) 2 years 6 weeks ago.

Hi Noel,
Thank you for sharing your perspective. I enjoyed reading this article.

Enjoy your time at UNT. . .and best of luck to you!

Comment #7 posted by Tracy Summers (not verified) 2 years 6 weeks ago.

i love UNT and Denton and I think you'll fit in great, Noel. I'm non-trad in the other direction and never really experienced anything but welcome as a fellow student. Most of it was in my head, or we had conversations to understand why both sides experienced apprehension. Don't forget to hit up the square for Beth Marie's ice cream, take in a football game or two (we aren't A&M, but we love our team), and come out to Sprockets on a first Saturday or third Friday for some swing dancing with the locals. The age averages around 19-20 with many above and below. I think you're gonna like it here. :)

Comment #8 posted by Daniel (not verified) 2 years 6 weeks ago.

I find it very interesting reading all the comments. Consider the psychology of the postings here; it's fascinating in seeing how people behave—defensive & threatened— instead of being excited for all of the opportunities that lie ahead for Noel and her fellow colleagues, for the department, for UNT, and for her field. I'm in mid-40s and "only" working on my MS- does Noel's success diminish mine? No! Just because she is young (by my standards) and clearly very smart (far smarter than I'll ever be), should not cause me to feel insecure. But, hey, the commenters who demonstrated that behavior (it's unbecoming, by the way!), are perfect examples of the prejudice against truly gifted and talented students and why her chosen area of study is so important. What I've always told my daughter is there is always going to be someone younger, smarter, better looking, more confident, [name your adjective], than she is and she is going to be smarter, younger, more confident, [name your adjective], than somebody else. Perhaps instead of trying to knock Noel down, we could be celebrating that she has joined our school!
Congrats Noel! Those of us "grown up" adults (who are secure in ourselves) wish you all the best and maybe will have the the good fortune to get to know the you.

Comment #9 posted by Anonymous (not verified) 2 years 6 weeks ago.

She is a student in the PhD program she is not a candidate yet. Also how is UNT admitting her into this program? Apparently she only has a bachelors! So now anyone with a bachelors can be admitted to a PhD program???

Comment #10 posted by Anonymous (not verified) 2 years 6 weeks ago.

If you had done your homework before commenting, you would know that it is possible to enter PhD programs after completing the undergraduate degree. It is not necessarily a shortcut, as the student is still required to complete the masters-level work. In fact, I believe Dr. Rinn, the head of the GT doctoral program (the largest in the country, by the way), earned her own doctorate in a similar fashion.

And to your final point, no, it is not true that anyone with a bachelors degree can get into a PhD program. I suspect you would find that out if you applied to one.

Comment #11 posted by James Bishop (not verified) 2 years 6 weeks ago.

And to your final point, no, it is not true that anyone with a bachelors degree can get into a PhD program. I suspect you would find that out if you applied to one. - Well said Sir!

Comment #12 posted by Anonymous (not verified) 2 years 6 weeks ago.

Noel, I predict that you will adore the inner workings of McConnell Hall. Make certain to dig Richard Sinclair or if retirement to interview. Also, look for the TAMS alumni group on Facebook if you wish to connect with those who have continued on in "old" age.

Comment #13 posted by Marc Feickert, TAMS '93 (not verified) 2 years 6 weeks ago.

Marc - I thought the same thing, in fact on first coming across the article I figured she might be a current or former TAMS student. I wish her well, and the TAMS program should certainly be a good resource for her research.

Comment #14 posted by Jim Keith, TAMS '98 (not verified) 2 years 6 weeks ago.

All the best to you, Noel!
I attended UNT many years ago and still consider those days in Denton among my fondest memories!

Comment #15 posted by Rex Winn (not verified) 2 years 6 weeks ago.

Welcome to the Educational Psychology department, from a graduate of the program...it should be a great ride.

Comment #16 posted by Marti Lathrop (not verified) 2 years 7 weeks ago.

Dear Noel, Good Bless You for being special person. I can see that you have a strong personality. Please, extend your research to the developing countries. All the best.

Comment #17 posted by Anonymous (not verified) 2 years 7 weeks ago.

I think it's great that a talented young person is in the Ph.D. program in Educational Psychology, but she is not a Ph.D. candidate yet. The editors of this page need to know that a student is a Ph.D. candidate only after passing examinations known as prelims (in the history department, at least). Until then, she is a Ph.D. student. EHT

Comment #18 posted by Dr. Elizabeth Hayes Turner (not verified) 2 years 7 weeks ago.

Thank you for pointing out our mistake, Dr. Turner. We actually do know the difference, we just didn't catch the mistake in the editing process. We've changed the use of "candidate" to "student."

Comment #19 posted by Michelle Hale (not verified) 2 years 6 weeks ago.

Yes, I noticed, and I thank you for responding. Yours, Elizabeth Turner

Comment #20 posted by Dr. Elizabeth Hayes Turner (not verified) 2 years 6 weeks ago.

That's what I am doubting. Only doctoral who pass the comprehensive exam in EP department could be called candidate. The editor need to be more careful when picking words.

Comment #21 posted by Anonymous (not verified) 2 years 6 weeks ago.

Welcome to the Educational Psychology department, Noel! If along the way you develop an interest in Autism Intervention, feel free contact Smita Mehta. Welcome!

Comment #22 posted by Anonymous (not verified) 2 years 7 weeks ago.

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