May 25, 2019  

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Duke TIP Program Honors Students in Ceremony at Southern Miss

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Duke TIP Executive Director Shawna Young was on hand to honor 7th-grade students June 3 for the program's annual 'Draping of the Medals' ceremony, held at Bennett Auditorium on the USM Hattiesburg campus (USM photos by Kelly Dunn).

Some of the region’s top middle school students were honored June 3 on The University of Southern Mississippi’s Hattiesburg campus when the Duke Talent Identification Program (TIP) held its ‘Draping of the Medals’ ceremony at Bennett Auditorium. The annual event recognizes seventh-grade students for scoring as well as entering college freshmen on the ACT or SAT, and showing promise for future academic success.

Duke TIP Executive Director Shawna Young and Rick Courtright, a gifted education specialist with the program, were on hand for the ceremony, along with Dr. Suzanne McKee-Waddell, director of USM’s Karnes Center for Gifted Studies. USM Vice-Provost for Academic Affairs Dr. Amy Miller was the event’s keynote speaker.

The goal of the Duke TIP’s 7th Grade Talent Search is to help academically talented students identify their strengths, develop their abilities and interests and celebrate their achievements. Through Duke TIP, participants learn about those strengths through their performance on college entrance exams, and receive such benefits as specialized publications and resources, educational guidance, recognition of their abilities and academic challenges.

Young said she came to the medal ceremony to not only join in celebrating the students’ achievements, but also urge them to do even more going forward. “We need these students to go on to become leaders, to change the world, to look for and solve the problems of today and tomorrow,” she said. 

Dr. Miller’s message for the student honorees was to build on their existing academic strengths and skill sets, while also cultivating new ones and think about college readiness as “a mindset” and not just a particular strategy. 

Medal recipient Conor Brown of Brandon, a seventh-grade student at Northwest Rankin, scored a 22 on the ACT and said the Duke TIP “gave me an opportunity to pursue my goals and the motivation to push forward and achieve.”

Brown’s mother, Kelly Brown, said the Duke TIP helped “open her eyes” to her son’s many talents and pursue placement for him in advanced classes. “I believe coming to this event (medal ceremony) inspires him as well,” she said.

Duke TIP partners with the Karnes Center to offer medalists the opportunity to enroll in USM’s Summer Program for Academically Talented Youth, a quality academic enhancement program that offers courses showcasing the University’s premier areas of study.

Walker Miller, 13, of Hattiesburg, has participated in the Karnes Center programs and testified to their benefits for him and others. “They have helped me push myself, and all young people who participate in them, to use their abilities to their fullest extent,” he said.

Dr. McKee-Waddell said the Karnes Center enjoys a collaborative effort with Duke dating back 31 years, and looks forward to it serving future generations. “We are pledged and committed to this group of students’ educational success through this partnership, and hold dear a keen sense of pride in what it has accomplished,” she said.

For more information about the Karnes Center for Gifted Studies and Duke TIP, visit