An Accelerated Journey

Michelle Vaisman on Graduation Day

Update: Michelle recently passed her dissertation defense and graduated from Yale University with her PhD in Electrical Engineering at the age of 23. She has accepted a job for a management consulting firm, Bain. She was also selected as one of the top ten Amgen Scholars to watch. Congratulations to Michelle! 

Meet Michelle Vaisman; an extraordinary young woman who benefited from radical acceleration and parents who supported her along the way. Acceleration works and it’s time to celebrate the successes rather than rely on a few anecdotal tales of students who were ill-prepared for the journey by adults in the process. 

Michelle Vaisman

I have written about several young people with similar experiences here. One of the common threads that runs through all their shared experiences is the importance of parents and the environment they provided for their curious, passionate, smart kids.

The report, A Nation Empowered, released earlier this year by the Acceleration Institute at the University of Iowa’s Belin-Blank Center is a 10 year follow-up to the seminal report, A Nation Deceived. In a recent Twitter chat, Dr. Ann Shoplik, director of the Acceleration Institute, explained why the new report was written, “Acceleration is the most-researched, yet under-utilized program option for gifted kids. Policy and practice haven’t kept up with the research on acceleration. Short and long-term research evidence is clear: Acceleration works! Colleges of Education don’t teach acceleration. We must inform administrators and teachers.”

The benefits of acceleration are well-documented. Students who are accelerated demonstrate exceptional achievements years later. Dr. Shoplik tell us, “Failing to accelerate an able student is likely to have negative effects on motivation, productivity; may even lead to dropping out. Achieving success in a class that is challenging bolsters confidence, raises expectations, and alters mindsets.”

“Acceleration is the most-researched, yet under-utilized program option for gifted kids. Policy and practice haven’t kept up with the research on acceleration." ~ Dr. Ann Shoplik

Michelle Vaisman first came to my attention when her mother, Karen, posted her story on Gifted Parenting Support’s Facebook Page. Her story is remarkable:

Michelle receiving her Masters from Yale May 2015

A recent headline on a British news website admonished parents not to brag about their gifted kids. How do you not brag about this young lady? Her accomplishments are incredible for someone so young.

Michelle’s mother was kind enough to share her story with me. Her personal perspective adds a dose of reality to the narrative. Here is some of the advice she shared:

  • Identified as a profoundly gifted child, she was highly motivated. Even as early as age 9, Michelle recognized her school’s rejection of pleas for acceleration as a challenge. Clearing these hurdles taught her important life lessons and eventually brought her a great deal of satisfaction.
  • Due to privacy laws, once Michelle was a fully matriculated college student, we learned colleges would not talk to parents regardless of the student’s age. Her mother credits this for Michelle gaining self-confidence, persistence and self-advocacy skills. However, personality plays a huge role in a child’s ability to stand up to adults within the system; confrontations can easily end poorly unless monitored closely.
  • The ability to defend exam grades, papers and lab grades without parental intervention plays an important role in college success. Failure to do so could result in a tremendous disadvantage to a younger student with long-term consequences.
  • Michelle learned that merit scholarships are rarely offered to a transfer student. After attending Mary Baldwin College, she was no longer eligible at subsequent universities for merit scholarships. Need-based scholarships were different. We found this out by surprise once our journey was underway. Budget wisely.
  • When transferring colleges, know the colleges’ policies regarding maximum number of transfer credits and acceptable coursework. Failure to know the rules can result in huge financial expenses, loss of time or even the inability to graduate. (The UC system in California has this ruling.) Even gifted students need parental guidance to navigate this part of college planning which can be difficult, time consuming and costly. College counselors are often only familiar with their own school and not the student’s full 4 year plan integrating multiple schools, community college and other coursework into their final transcript.
  • To increase her chance of acceptance (age discrimination being a factor), when submitting her summer REU and college transfer applications; she applied to 15 or more schools. On average, she was successfully admitted to over half the schools and programs to which she applied. She also succeeded in honing her writing skills in the process.
  • Test scores, grades, writing skills and recommendation letters from professors were intricate components to this process. Knowing standardized testing calendars meant getting applications in on time without missing critical deadlines.
  • Learning how to network and build relationships with adults along the way was an important lesson. Age discrimination was a real concern up until the age of 18.
  • Although 5 years younger, Michelle was quite social; making friends and developing relationships with college classmates. Social interaction impacted her continued success and happiness in college. So at the age of 20, she is waiting patiently to be able to enter a bar (age 21) where much of the socialization takes place in graduate school.
  • Meanwhile, she is the team leader of her coed intramural grad school softball team and attends outside activities like dancing, swimming and parties.
  • Maturity for an early entrance student is fast-tracked. As parents, we often had to hang on for the ride and we saw real measurable leaps in her development on a monthly basis as opposed to a yearly one. While rewarding, it was simultaneously unnerving.

Since starting graduate school, Michelle has been financially self-supporting as a math tutor. She earned two fellowships this year; one from the National Science Foundation and one from NASA. She chose NASA in order to research solar cells with a space technology application. She also volunteers and works with young STEM students at Yale’s ManyMentors program; particularly young women in science. After completing her PhD, Michelle wants to focus on making the world a better place by contributing to scientific research toward furthering developments in the alternative energy field.

A proud and devoted mother, Karen Vaisman tells her daughter’s story to inspire bright young minds at the beginning of their educational journey who are faced with a system that says "no you can't do it” to become independent, successful students who realize they indeed can! She points to the need for strong parental support, continued open communication, a keen understanding of your own child’s maturity and ability to handle adult interactions and challenges without parental intervention. Karen emphasizes the importance of both parents working together to ensure the success of their children.

Michelle and Her Parents

If you would like more information on Michelle’s journey, Karen can be contacted here. What has been your experience with acceleration? It’s time to share the good news that acceleration can and does work!

Photos courtesy of Karen Vaisman Photography
Parts of this post were excerpted from a post at the Global #gtchat Powered by TAGT Blog here.


  1. Thank you for sharing. It is refreshing to hear a story focused on a Gifted and Talented student not being left behind in our current education structure.

  2. Michelle just graduated with her second Masters Degree in Philosophy from Yale University. She has 2 more years to finish her PhD research in solar energy. She will be completing her research in NREL in Golden Colorado.

  3. Thank you. I needed this today as I have struggled with others and their idea of my son being chronologically younger than the other kids if we accelerate him.

  4. New article on Michelle:

  5. This is so great to read! I'm struggling with my gifted daughter. The school district isn't willing to advance her, so we're looking into an online charter school.


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