Washington Post PEGs Mary Baldwin for Feature

December 3, 2007

At Mary Baldwin University, we believe all of our students have stories of personal transformation that deserve national attention. This week, a few young women in the Program for the Exceptionally Gifted (PEG), will share part of their lives at Mary Baldwin with reporter Maria Glod fromThe Washington Post. Glod will be on campus September 17 and 18 with a photographer to document the PEG experience for a piece in the national newspaper and on thePost’sonline site. Let’s show the crew Mary Baldwin hospitality as they help bring national recognition to the college. We’ll keep you updated about when and where you can see the article!

UPDATE 12/3:Read “Young, Gifted and Skipping High School” in theWashington Post’sSunday Metro section or online at www.washingtonpost.com. Also see thePost’s photo gallery. To date, the piece has also been carried inThe Roanoke Times,The Birmingham News,andThe Tennessean.

Read on for a glimpse at PEG’s new director this year, Stephanie Ferguson, who plays a major role in organizing theWashington Postvisit:

New PEG Director Nurtures Her (Gifted) Nature

If the Program for the Exceptionally Gifted (PEG) had existed when Stephanie Ferguson was in middle or high school, she hopes she would have been one of those invited to enroll. She would have leapt at that kind of opportunity.

Stephanie Ferguson“Being on the honors track was the closest I came to gifted programming in high school,” Ferguson said. “As a girl, there was the perception that you could either be smart or you could be popular. I always had a nagging feeling people at school didn’t know who I really was.”

As PEG’s new director, Ferguson will nurture the program she did not have a chance to enter so that it continues to nurture young gifted women who remind her of herself at that age.

Although Ferguson was not educated in a gifted program, the idea of accelerated learning was not far from her mind. After earning her bachelor’s degree in education from Millersville University in Pennsylvania, she began teaching high school reading and English, first in Pennsylvania and then Louisiana. Six years into her teaching career, Ferguson found a position working with gifted children in grades 6–8 and got her first glimpse of Mary Baldwin’s Program for the Exceptionally Gifted.

“One of my female students brought me a brochure that had been sent to her about PEG, and I was interested right away,” she said. Ferguson was working on her master’s degree in education, curriculum, and instruction from Southeastern Louisiana University at the time, and she investigated PEG while she focused on gifted studies as a concentration for her degree.

“I was always trying to find new ways to keep the brightest students in my classroom motivated and interested,” she said. PEG continued to “pop up” in her research about gifted programs while she worked on her doctorate — with a concentration in gifted studies — at University of Southern Mississippi. Her dissertation on moral development and self-concept among gifted residential high school students explored many of the elements present in Mary Baldwin’s Program for the Exceptionally Gifted, and she was familiar with the program by the time she was offered its directorship.

Ferguson started her higher education career at University of Southern Mississippi in 1999, jumping right into teaching and research in gifted studies. She has also served on the faculty at University of Phoenix, Cochise College, Southeastern Louisiana University, University of Arizona South, and as an online lecturer at University of South Florida. Most recently, Ferguson was director of the Saturday and Summer Enrichment Program at University of Virginia. Her extensive research on social and emotional issues of gifted children, about which she published a book, Social and Emotional Teaching Strategies, in 2004, will be put to practical use in the residential PEG program, she said.

A Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Scholarship, scholarships from the National Association of Junior Auxiliaries, awards for Louisiana Outstanding Character Educator, and a Wal-Mart Foundation Teacher of the Year award are among Ferguson’s career recognitions. As a Fulbright Scholar, she traveled to Japan to study that country’s educational system, where the concept of “gifted” is nearly nonexistent.

Although Ferguson knows she will learn as much from students as they will from her during her introduction to the program, she is already exploring ideas for PEG’s future direction. She plans to continue looking for new and innovative funding sources that could tailor the program to students’ interests and most critical services. Marketing and recruiting students will also be one of her focuses, building on PEG’s unique “opportunity to accelerate while being in a safe, nurturing environment,” she said. Ferguson is eager to investigate the possibility of creating PEG academies offering dual enrollment with local schools at some of Mary Baldwin’s regional centers.