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Program to lead creative kids to innovative careers proves successful

Monday, December 14, 2015

LAWRENCE — Every teacher has seen them in the classroom: young people who are highly creative, yet struggle in some areas of their schoolwork or in disciplinary matters. Researchers at the University of Kansas have developed a program, now in its 10th year, that helps identify creatively gifted students and encourage their creativity to help them choose a career that is personally satisfying and innovative. Now they want to expand the program it to help such students worldwide.

The Counseling Laboratory for the Exploration of Optimal States, known as CLEOS, has worked with hundreds of students to recognize their creativity and steer them into rewarding careers. Researchers have published work showing that profiles developed to find such students are scientifically valid and their direct efforts in working with such students to explore career paths and pair them with mentors has led to successful, creative careers.

“We’re coming off a long era of No Child Left Behind and its emphasis on testing and standardization. Creative kids just don’t fit that mold,” said Barbara Kerr, Williamson Family Distinguished Professor of Counseling Psychology at KU and director of CLEOS. “We wanted to help identify creative adolescents who might need encouragement, so we developed profiles by looking at what eminently creative people, in five different domains, were like when they were 16.”

Kerr and Robyn McKay of Arizona State University-Polytechnic College of Technology published a study in the Creativity Research Journal that chronicled five profiles for creative students:

  • Language/verbal linguistic creativity
  • Mathematical and scientific inventiveness
  • Interpersonal/emotional creativity
  • Musical and dance creativity
  • Spatial visual creativity.

Students who excel in one area often do not do well in others. Consequently, many such students are not placed in gifted programs or encouraged academically. More than one-third of students who have taken part in CLEOS in 10 years had never been identified for gifted programs.

The profiles proved effective, as teachers nominated 485 students they believed matched the characteristics. When tested, those students scored resoundingly high in meeting the core characteristics of creatively gifted adults.

The CLEOS program works with 150 students a year from across Kansas, Kansas City and select school districts in Missouri. Those students take part in a range of interventions during a daylong event led by KU. As part of event, students receive detailed assessments of their traits and their interests, learn that creativity engages a unique brain function known as “flow” and meet with creative adults making a living using their passions.

“They chart their future as innovators,” Kerr said. “Imagining themselves ten years in the future helps them understand the pathways toward their goals. Actually seeing their brain’s EEG waves as they visualize their creative process is a unique experience for these students that makes their potential as innovators real to them.”

The next CLEOS workshops will take place Fridays from Feb. 5, 2016, through the spring semester in Lawrence. Interested Kansas and Missouri high schools can enter to bring a team of six to 10 creative students at http://cleos.ku.edu/. Parents and teachers of creative students in other states and countries can sign up for online counseling through www.creatinglives.org. Filmmaker Rodolfo Parisi recently produced the following video, featuring interviews with CLEOS coordinators and participants and footage from a workshop: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OdKGNALjskM&feature=youtu.be.

Kerr and the CLEOS Research Team recently presented the findings on the effectiveness of the program at the World Conference on Giftedness, Creativity and Talent. They found that students who took part in the program were more attuned to their creative goals, more willing to seek enriched education and more likely to explore creative careers compared with a control group that did not take part in the interventions. The students not only reported increased interest in those areas at the end of the workshop, but a one-year follow-up showed the majority of participants had in fact engaged in further career development.

In addition to showing interest in advanced training that rewarded their interest in creative fields, they reported feeling more a part of their school and society and better trusting their own intuitive decision-making.

“The kids who take part in CLEOS are saying things like ‘this is the first time an adult has ever taken me seriously’ or ‘this is the first time I’ve ever been in a room full of people like me,’” Kerr said.

That encouragement has been shown to have a lasting positive effect as well. Follow-up studies with participants seven years after their CLEOS workshop have shown that 80 percent of participants are now working in creative fields, compared with 7 percent of the general population. And three of the first 100 are now working at NASA, while many more are in graduate school or receiving highly specialized training.

“Just the effect of finally being noticed seems to have really helped raise their motivation in school and helped them believe they can make a living with their creative gift,” Kerr said.

CLEOS directors hope to expand the program across the country and around the world to help identify and encourage as many gifted students as they can:

  • They are currently in the process of raising funds to help expand the workshops, make their profiles and interventions available online and their technologies commercially available:
  • In August, Kerr traveled to Denmark to train school counselors, psychologists and educational consultants, from all continents except Antarctica, to work with creative kids.
  • CLEOS has also worked with counselors, consultants, psychiatrists and others both in schools and private practice to identify and encourage creative young people across the country.

“We want all schools to be able to use our research to find and guide creative young people,” Kerr said. “And we’ve been training counselors to work with creative people for 10 years – so we are ready to take this to the world.”


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