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Celebrating 100 years of creative thinking

  |   Kathryn Kao   |   Permalink   |   Spotlight

In the 1960s, Dr. Ellis Paul Torrance piloted the Verbal Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, which featured two stuffed toys children could touch and handle for the sole purpose of exploring three mental characteristics – fluency, flexibility and originality.

These toys – along with 1,117 published books, articles, chapters, tests and book reviews – serve as a lasting reminder of Torrance's innovative and groundbreaking contributions to the development of creative potential.

Today, these two toys sit in the office of Sarah Sumners, interim director of the Torrance Center for Creativity and Talent Development. Because of Torrance's extensive accomplishments, the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking are the most widely used tests of creativity.

In 1984, the Torrance Center for Creative Studies, now known as the Torrance Center for Creativity and Talent Development, was established to honor Torrance's work and legacy. As a research psychologist in the Air Force survival training program, Torrance discovered his lifelong passion – learning how to identify creative potential.

While there, he determined that creative thinking and problem solving were critical elements needed to survive in any given situation. He believed that every individual possessed a unique strength and that education should be built on these strengths rather than weaknesses. Decades later, these principles continue to impact the way educators' direct creative growth in their students.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Torrance's legacy and contribution to the field of creative research and development. To celebrate his life and legacy, the Torrance Center for Creativity and Talent Development will combine the annual Torrance Lecture Series, traditionally held in the spring, with his 100th-year birthday celebration.

"It seemed natural to combine the two events together," said Sumners. "The celebration is really a recognition of Dr. Torrance's life and legacy."

The "2015 E. Paul Torrance Lecture and 100th-Year Birthday Celebration" will take place 5:30-8:30 p.m. Oct. 8 at the UGA Hotel and Conference Center's Magnolia Ballroom. Every year, the event, which is free and open to the public, brings together scholars and creative artists to the University of Georgia to discuss issues related to creativity.

The Torrance Center has invited Felice Kaufmann, a research assistant professor at the New York University Child Study Center, and Barbara Kerr, a distinguished professor of counseling psychology at the University of Kansas, to speak at the lecture.

"We try to alternate each year between lecturers who can speak on their own creativity in practice, such as Branford Marsalis, and lecturers who can speak about creativity research. This year we wanted to invite speakers who are more creativity research focused," said Sumners. "We thought of Felice Kaufmann in particular because she was a student of Dr. Torrance's and her research is about gifted adults and the Presidential Scholars program."

Kaufmann's lecture, "Stories from the Rear View Mirror: Lessons Learned from the Lives of Gifted Adults," will address what happened to a number of young adults who were named Presidential Scholars in high school. This unique study highlights the fascinating and diverse ways gifted students have developed over the years, while providing insight into different ways parents can help their children grow.

Kerr's lecture, "The Creative Adolescent: What We Know, and What We Need to Know," will review key research developments on creative teens, from Torrance to today, and draw implications for education, guidance and their future as creative adults.

As a result of Torrance's guidance and mentoring, many of his students, like Kaufmann, have continued to cultivate and improve his research agenda. Their contributions to the field of creativity are an extension of the Torrance legacy and many of them come back to be Torrance lecturers, said Sumners.

Even though the two stuffed toys in Sumners' office are only a small reminder of Torrance's immeasurable influence as both a researcher and teacher, his impact as a pioneer of research in creative development will persist as innovative educators across the world continue to implement his techniques for training and refer to his accomplishments in creative problem solving.

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