Darlene Boyd found her calling – helping gifted students make the most of their abilities – as a fifth grade teacher assigned to the school’s top readers. The principal nonchalantly assured her, “All you need to do is just give them a book, and they’ll be fine.”

“Within 20 minutes, I knew they were not fine,” Boyd says. “Even though they were gifted, they needed guidance.”

That’s when she began questioning the myth that gifted students can make it on their own and sought out ways to help them succeed.

For nearly 15 years, Boyd has been doing just that as director of UCI’s Gifted Students Academy. The intensive five-week summer program offers gifted students in grades five through eight a taste of college life, including the optional dorm experience. Eligible students select one-week modules in each of the major subject areas – math, science, language arts, social studies and the arts – as well as electives.

Boyd is recognized as an expert in the field of gifted studies and curriculum development. Before coming to UCI, she was the director of the Gifted and Creative Studies Network at Widener University, as well as an assistant professor of educational administration, educational policy studies and gifted studies. Boyd also has served on the board of the California Association for the Gifted and won the Gifted Distinguished Service Award in 2004.

Under Boyd’s guidance, GSA is booming. The program has grown from 200 students in 1991 to more than 1,000 – up 400 from last year. This year’s sessions run June 26-Aug. 4, and Exploratorium, a similar program for gifted kindergartners through fourth graders, runs July 10-Aug. 11.

GSA’s success has come from Boyd’s longtime commitment to revitalizing and enhancing the program.

“We provide a program that challenges students academically, socially and emotionally, a place that fosters the opportunity to learn, study and live with students of like abilities,” explains Boyd.

Among the popular classes, GSA offers: “Law, Ethics/Mock Trial.” The class began nine years ago, when Joyce Pamela Boyd-Frazier (no relation), a GSA parent and public defender, casually suggested GSA develop a legal course. She ended up teaching the class, and recruiting a cadre of fellow public defenders to help. Students took so well to the course that they even wear suits for the mock trials.

Other courses range from astronomy to forensic science, understanding Shakespeare and poetry to digital studio and Web mastery.

“We try to keep the curriculum fresh and stimulating,” Boyd says. “We offer a haven for gifted students.”