November 15, 2004

Guiding young learners is best reward for Thomas

Take more than 22,000 young scholars. Add a team of highly motivated Sacramento State faculty, high school teachers and industry professionals. Blend in the secret ingredient who completes this special mix—director Terry Thomas—and what do you have? The wildly popular Academic Talent Search.

Since 1982, Thomas has been the driving force for the program which offers students in grades six through nine the opportunity to explore natural talents and develop strengths through challenging and exciting classes on the Sacramento State campus. He is also the University’s very first recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award for Community Service.

Academic Talent Search offers more than 100 classes ranging from forensic science to veterinary medicine. These accelerated courses are designed for students to master in five to six weeks what is normally taught in nine months. Perhaps the most exciting twist is that students elect to delay vacations, summer camps and leisure in front of the television, to expand their learning capacities in a fun and innovative setting during summer break.

An educator since 1969, Thomas has willingly contributed time to his community, and guaranteed a lasting commitment to his students. In addition to Talent Search, Thomas is also founder and director of Accelerated College Entrance or ACE, an early entrance program for highly able high school students. Like Academic Talent Search, ACE provides qualified students with access to Sacramento State classes on campus and selected local high schools. More than 800 students enroll each semester, and upon successful completion of coursework, receive college credit prior to high school graduation.

Since the birth of Academic Talent Search, Thomas has witnessed three classes and 100 students flourish into more than 100 classes and 2,000 students. “We have lawyers, a veterinarian, and a cartoonist who teach and bring their special skills,” Thomas explains. “Students need the opportunity to expand their horizons and this is what we do best.”

The program is a great supplement to the traditional school classroom, where students can feel restricted to standard curriculum and required courses. Students get to explore areas of interest that might otherwise go untapped while being entertained and intellectually stimulated. They are eager, ready, and willing to spend great portions of their summers in the program, which Thomas says, is thrilling.

Added to his repertoire of service, Thomas acted as project coordinator and principal investigator in a 12-year longitudinal study of the impact of Academic Talent Search on its precocious participants. The study found that after high school, college and beyond, Talent Search alumni were socially adjusted, with balanced views and realistic expectations.

Most had attended prestigious colleges and universities, and had made successful and empowering career moves and life choices. The former students say the impact the program has is long-lasting in the way it gave them a sense of achievement and responsibility, while being treated with respect.

Thomas maintains that although being honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award is rewarding, his biggest reward is the volume of schools that are being reached in the community, and the number of students who flood the program each summer. “We end up touching the lives of an awful lot of students, and that’s what it’s all about.”

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