Neag School Receives $300K Award to Support Mentor Education

Two high school students in the lab as part of Mentor Connection program
A new $300,000 award from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation will bring high school students to the UConn Storrs campus next summer to take part in a three-week residential program focused on hands-on research and creativity productivity. (UConn Photo)

Through a generous $300,000 award from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, high school seniors enrolled in the foundation’s Young Scholars Program will be able to pursue areas of interest and advanced learning during a three-week residential program housed on the University of Connecticut’s Storrs campus in the summer of 2018.

Modeled after the Neag School of Education’s Mentor Connection program — which was developed at the Renzulli Center for Creativity, Gifted Education, and Talent Development and hosted at UConn for 20 years — the Young Scholars Senior Summit (YSSS) program at UConn will be built on research evidence demonstrating the importance of mentors in high-end talent development. Student participants will be members of advanced-level research teams in self-selected areas of interest, led by faculty experts from across multiple disciplines.

“The Young Scholars Senior Summit Program at UConn is designed to focus on student strengths and interests and to promote a pathway to competitive colleges and universities, graduate programs, and productive careers in the students’ academic areas of interest.”

— Joseph Renzulli,
Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor

“High-potential students with financial need are unquestionably one of the most overlooked groups in the American education system,” says Joseph Renzulli, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of educational psychology. “The Young Scholars Senior Summit Program at UConn is designed to focus on student strengths and interests and to promote a pathway to competitive colleges and universities, graduate programs, and productive careers in the students’ academic areas of interest.”

“We are so very thankful for the continued support and dedication from the Cooke Foundation for helping us to help impact high-potential students in need,” Renzulli adds.

Jack Kent Cooke Foundation LogoThe Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Young Scholars Program is a national scholarship initiative for students in 8th through 12th grade who demonstrate exceptional academic abilities, unique talents, and persistence. Some of the students will be first-generation college students. The Cooke Foundation aims to prepare young scholars to get into and thrive at the nation’s best colleges and go on to fulfilling professional lives through which they make noteworthy contributions to the world in whatever they choose to do.

“We selected UConn out of a pool of more than a dozen strong proposals because of the Neag School’s long history of research and successful programming for high-achieving students, particularly those with financial need,” says Natalie Rodriguez Jansorn, director of scholarship programs at the Cooke Foundation.  “Dr. Renzulli’s leadership of the longstanding UConn Mentor Connection program, pairing students with faculty mentors, convinced us that our students would benefit from the unique opportunity to engage in research with renowned UConn faculty.”

The YSSS program will offer learning opportunities in areas not typically covered during the academic year. Instead of focusing on a classroom setting, the YSSS program will involve rising high school seniors from diverse backgrounds in current, relevant research activities in authentic situations in laboratories and other collegiate settings on the UConn Storrs campus under the guidance of University mentors.

“We believe it’s essential for students to have opportunities to demonstrate their talents in high levels of creative productivity. Our work is based on the beliefs that above average ability, creativity, and task commitment can be developed and nurtured, and creative productivity comes from these interactions,” says Renzulli. “All social contexts, including the school, home, and the community can influence creative productivity. A Research I university setting provides an especially promising context for creative productivity, because firsthand inquiry is the core of all daily work.”

Accomplished UConn professors and/or advanced graduate students will host participants in their labs and studios and work with them on projects in shared areas of interest, emphasizing hands-on research and creative productivity.

“Overall, the mentorship experience of the YSSS program will allow rising high school seniors to take on the role of practicing professionals and experience real-world research and/or creative projects,” says Lisa Muller, executive program director of UConn’s YSSS program. “Their experience will also develop an awareness of their talent areas and career opportunities, and they’ll interact with students with common areas of interest.”

Check out past stories of support from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation here and here. For more information about how to support Neag School programs like the Young Scholars Senior Summit program, contact Maria Martineau, associate director of development for University programs, at


About the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation
The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation is a private foundation committed to advancing the education of high achieving students with financial need. The foundation supports exceptional students from elementary school to graduate school through scholarships, grants, direct service, and knowledge creation and dissemination.  Since its founding in 2000, the foundation has provided over $175 million in scholarships to nearly 2,300 students from 8th grade through graduate school, along with comprehensive advising and support services. The foundation has also provided over $97 million in grants to organizations that serve such students.