Ray: Loner Boy and Renaissance Man

Meet Ray

Ray graduated from the University of North Texas in 2006 with a bachelors in Electronics Engineering; during his senior year he interned with the Federal Aviation Administration and upon graduation became a full-time employee. His passions are music, art, and all things science! During my interview with Ray I noticed four aspects in his development as a gifted person: he felt isolated as a gifted minority, he struggled and continues to struggle to find peers who share his same interests, he was always intrinsically motivated, and his family played a very important role in his success.

The Early Years

Birth

Ray was born three months premature. The doctors immediately found that he had a tumor on his back as well as hadn't developed mobility in his left leg due to a malformation in ligaments and tendons. The doctors said that Ray could possibly be mentally challenged and never able to walk. After several surgeries and lots of support from loving and determined parents, Ray overcame many physical obstacles and developed into a healthy and able boy!

GT Identification

Ray attended kindergarten and first grade in a private Catholic school, his teachers knew there was something special about him but since there were no gifted classes or differentiation in this private school there was little they could do to service him. Ray's mom then made the decision to place him into public school in the second grade. His second grade teacher immediately noticed the giftedness in him and referred him for testing. It was evident to this teacher that Ray was gifted in math and science as well as emotionally mature for his age. Below is an image of the Stanford Early School Achievement Test administered to him in Kinder followed by a picture of the results of a Cognitive Abilities test given in 4th grade. Both show his above average abilities in Math. (Scoring in the 98th percentile in kinder and in the 4th grade the 95th and 93rd percentiles in quantitative and nonverbal abilities respectively.)

Trouble in 3rd Grade!

At Meet-the-Teacher Night Ray's third grade teacher told his mother that there was no way he could be gifted, there must have been an error. According to her, Ray couldn't possibly be gifted because he was too quiet, introverted, and rarely interacted with others in his class. Ray's mother recalls receiving a call later on that year from the third grade teacher in which she stated she was wrong about her initial statement.

5th Grade Fun

Ray's most memorable moments in elementary took place in 5th grade where he says the students were the teachers and the teacher was more like a facilitator. "Fifth grade didn't feel like school, it wasn't a traditional classroom setting." Ray's fifth grade teacher was a conservationist and instilled in his students the desire to take care of the earth. Specifically, Ray remembers that most of their learning that year revolved around the rainforest. Ray's 5th grade class was featured in a local newspaper for the fundraising they did for rainforest conservation.
Learning about Ray's experiences reminds me of the important role teachers play, especially early on, in the development of giftedness. If it had not been for his mother's decision to move him from schools and his 2nd grade teacher's insight, he may never have been identified as gifted. Also his 5th grade classroom is an example of a gifted-friendly environment in which teachers help students make sense of their own ideas as well as share the teaching with the students (Herber, 2011).

Middle and High School

Ray first felt "different" than others in his middle school classes. "I felt different, not because I was gifted but, because I was gifted and Hispanic. I was the only Hispanic kid in my GT classes so I felt I couldn't relate to the other kids." Although Ray made friendships in these classes he expressed that he may have been more open to talk and interact if there were other minorities in the class.

His favorite classes during middle school were his art classes. "These classes were more mixed, there weren't just GT kids, there was a little bit of everything so I felt comfortable." He went on to explain that these classes also inspired his passion for art; he recalls one of his teachers pulling him aside and explaining how good his work was, that it was different from the rest of the class. "I had always liked art and knew I was pretty good at it but this teacher talked to me as an individual and told me how good I was, it was special."

However, in his content area classes he continued to feel a distinction in race. In most of his classes he was the only Hispanic student but was able to build relationships with African-American gifted students. He remembers choosing to sit alone during lunch quite often since he wasn't very acquainted with the Hispanic students in his lunch due to the fact that he didn't share any classes with them and his African-American GT peers were involved in the school's sports programs so they were on different lunch schedules.

A few things from our readings about gifted culturally diverse students resonated with me when hearing Ray discuss his minority experiences. Hebert (2011) described within-group cultural differences as being sometimes greater than those among major minority groups. Such differences as educational experiences and language kept Ray from connecting with other Hispanic students.

Extracurricular Activities

Although Ray had good relationships with most of his classmates he still felt like he couldn't completely relate to them because his interests were different than theirs. He also had positive relationships outside of school but couldn't relate to them in terms of academics. Even though he was involved in outside activities such as church, basketball, baseball, dance, and piano there was rarely a cross over between friends in those activities and school. "My friendships with everyone were always good but it sometimes felt fragmented, the things I liked in school weren't things my outside friends liked."

In addition to being involved in outside activities Ray was also a member of many student organizations such as the Honor Society, Student Council, Art Honor Society, and the Student Empowerment Team which conducted peer mediation with high school students and mentoring for elementary and middle school students. "The friends I made in these groups weren't very interested in sports talk. So in a sense I had different groups of friends for the different things I did. I never felt weird about this but I just didn't fully connect with everyone so I was always quiet and reserved."

Ray also enjoyed working on car stereos and recalls building his first radio as an experiment with his dad after a trip to Radio Shack. "I really enjoyed taking things apart and felt happy when I understood how something worked." From that point on, Ray helped install radios for his friends and himself during his spare time. Of all his gifted peers, Ray was the only one who worked throughout his summer breaks, his motivation was to buy new car stereos.

"Working at Six Flags and volunteering at Scottish Rite also taught me alot about differences in people. I got to meet kids my age from different areas of DFW. Those were unique experiences." Ray further explained that these opportunities helped him become comfortable with being different and that he was glad he decided to participate in these areas himself, "my parents just supported me to do different things they never had to push me to do them."

I believe Ray's ability to build and maintain friendships and accept the differences in them and the people he met along the way is a reflection of what Herbert (2011) describes as the belief in self in gifted males. Ray used his emotions as tools to make sense of his experiences; his ability to do well with different groups of students his age demonstrates a multicultural appreciation and the drive he had to achieve in his extracurricular activities reflects his inner will. Also, Ray had the ability to navigate through the dominant culture while learning to be culturally flexible in his participation. Herbert (2011) referred to this as biculturality, this ability enabled Ray to engage in achievement-oriented behaviors without feeling giving up his cultural identity.

College Days

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After much success in high school art competitions, Ray decided to major in art at UNT. However, after orientation he realized that the art program was too structured and competitive. "It took the freedom out of art for me. I wanted art to be the thing I did because I wanted to do it not because someone was telling me when and how to do it." So Ray decided to change his major to electronics engineering since he had always enjoyed working with electronics.

Although he was challenged throughout his course work and the class demographics were much more diverse than those in middle and high school, Ray still felt a need for a connection with a group. After visiting a cousin that was a member of a fraternity at a south Texas university, Ray decided he wanted to find a fraternity to join at UNT. "I saw that although these guys hadn't known each other for more than a year they were already like a family and that was cool." However, Ray saw that the only fraternities on campus were either white or black fraternities. So he decided to join student organizations instead. "I met lots of Latinos who were like-minded, they were different than the Latinos in the lunchroom in high school." After getting to know each other Ray and nine other male friends decided to establish a new fraternity on campus that was already established at many other universities throughout the country, Sigma Lambda Beta.

While in the fraternity he was able to bond with a select few that shared his same intellectual interests. "They always considered me as the deep thinker of the group and would heckle me about over-analyzing things. But we all appreciated each other and even if we didn't like the same things we supported each other." Ray's experience in the fraternity reminds me of the example of the Mesosystem in Bronfenbrenner’s Systems as as explained in Hebert, 2011. The young men in Ray's fraternity not only supported each other in their individual endeavors but also participated together in community service and leadership activities. Ray explained that their time together positively affected their future successes.

Self Reflection and the Present Day

Looking back now, Ray says he was a loner. Since he shared lunch schedules with minority students that were not in his classes there was a lack of interaction with them and so he felt like he wasn't a part of the group. Also, the peers he did relate to were mostly involved with sports while he was the only one taking art classes. Ray stated, "I never based what I did on what everyone else did." He also says the friends he helped install radios for just appreciated the end result but didn't share his interest in talking about how the systems worked. Ray currently drafted his own design for the sound system he wants and has taken it to several sound installation shops just to get feedback and chat about car radios.

Ray also stated that growing up, he really loved science but that he feels he missed the opportunity to grow in this area because in high school, "I had science teachers who had no business being teachers. This frustrated me a lot! So I realized as I grew older that I needed to teach myself science." Ray began teaching himself about organic farms and organic lawn care. "I spend a lot of time watching YouTube videos, documentaries, and reading about this stuff. But again, even the friends I have now look at me weird when I start talking about my organic lawn."

When asked if intellectual compatibility challenges changed when he began his career he said, "No, I really realized I was different than a lot of people when the FAA sent me to Oklahoma for trainings. The classes were easy for me while others struggled. I learned the job in less than five years, I don't have to think very much, I just do it."

"I was always really good at math but can honestly say I didn't love it. In high school I actually hated geometry, " stated Ray. Although his abilities in Math were above average and he found the work easy he didn't develop a passion for it. He explains that math has been a talent of his that he uses it as a tool to perform in music, art, and science. "I remember partying late with some of my fraternity brothers and taking an exam in one of my college calculus classes the next morning. Everyone was so stressed but I took the test and finished before others. The following day our professor announced that an MIT student auditing the class also took the test and that I outscored him. Everyone seemed really impressed but I didn't see the big deal."
During his time in college, Ray's love for music deepened and he was the "go-to guy" for all things music related. Now he has amassed a digital collection of over 18,000 songs with artists ranging from Louis Armstrong to Justin Timberlake and a vinyl collection of over 700 records. Upon graduation from college, Ray invested in music recording systems and software and has since experimented with producing music. To the right is a painting by a famous American, urban artist, Justin Bua. Ray loves Bua's work as he often depicts musicians in a very rhythmic way; Ray has collected several of Bua's prints and The DJ is just one of his favorites.

Aside from keeping busy with his lawn care and occasional beat-making Ray began a small business in iPhone repair. The need for such a service has kept him on his toes as he encounters different problems he is thrilled to solve. When asked why he enjoyed this so much he replied that it makes up for the boredom he sometimes feels at work "and I get to take things apart and see how they work!"
Ray's ability to excel in various areas with ease and to pursue each intently is reflective of internal motivation or inner locus of control (Herbert, 2011). Everything Ray has been curious about he has looked into, whether or not it was something any one else cared about. His internal drive not only allowed him to succeed in the school setting but also in his personal life.

Personality

During a high school elective psychology course Ray remembers taking a personality test titled True Colors. This test is used by many companies to learn about their employees to facilitate communication. The results of the test categorize personality styles and label them with colors. After all students in this course took the test, Ray's teacher explained that he was the only one labeled Green and that she had predicted this before hand. She saw Ray as a very inquisitive boy and the types of questions he asked were not typical for his age. "Standard instructions were not good enough for me. I would ask, "Do you mean this...? or this?' I guess I was an out of the box thinker. I wanted to see the logic in things or keep researching things when others just accepted things at face value."
Take a look below at what each of the colors mean.
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Although I didn't have Ray complete the Overexcitabilities checklist I believe he would fall under Dabrowski's Intellectual Overexcitability; Ray especially asks probing questions and seeks to solve problems (Neihart, Reis, & Robinson, 2002). His love for art, music, and science foster reflective thought in which he thinks about the thinking behind the creation of paintings, songs, and inventions.

Action Plan

It was apparent from my case study that Ray loves to pursue understanding in many areas. However to help Ray continue to develop his passion for knowledge I recommend that he seek interest groups to socialize with. Although he has had friendships since childhood he expressed a "mental loneliness" that he admits is sometimes voluntary. "It's difficult to find anyone person who shares the exact same interests I have, but I know that's sometimes a part of being gifted so I just prefer not to share what I know with others," stated Ray. Also, Ray discussed that he has always been a perfectionist, many times abandoning a painting or a song because he felt it would never look or sound like the idea he had in his mind. I also recommend that Ray choose a project he may have stopped working on and find an art or music mentor that could give him feed back on it. Lastly, Ray should make contact with the fraternity brothers he felt most intellectually compatible to share ideas and thoughts with.

References

Hebert, T. P. (2011). Understanding the social and emotional lives of gifted students. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press Inc.


Neihart, M., Reis, S. M., Robinson, N. M., & Moon, S. M. (2002). The social and emotional development of gifted children: What do we know? Washington, DC: The National Association of Gifted Children.