Belin-Blank Center Scholastic awards ceremony brings opportunities to students

Scholastic-winning artists have their paintings framed and on display in the Ballroom of the Belin-Blank Center building for all to admire and photograph.

The Belin-Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development was jam-packed full of celebratory emotions on Sunday, March 10. Students from all around the Midwest gathered to celebrate the select group of awards given to just a few hundred from over 7,000 entries submitted for art and writing.

“Established in 1923 by Maurice R. Robinson, the founder of Scholastic Inc., the Awards are the longest-running, most prestigious recognition program for creative teenagers across America and the largest source of scholarships for young artists and writers. The Awards have an impressive roster of notable Alumni including Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, Richard Avedon, Luis Jiménez, Sylvia Plath, Charles White, Kay WalkingStick, Ken Burns, Marc Brown, John Baldessari, Mozelle Thompson, Joyce Carol Oates, Robert Redford, Hughie Lee-Smith, Lena Dunham and Zac Posen,” according to the Organizational Overview of the Scholastic Celebration event.

Jan Warren, an assistant director for student services, said, “Kids can sometimes think ‘I could never have a career in art’ or ‘I could never have a career in writing’ you know the, ‘I’d like to but I can’t, it doesn’t pay enough money.’”

A goal of the scholastic program is to show kids and young adults that the arts aren’t strictly a way to make money, but an outlet as well. “Arts can help you in a lot of ways. For some kids, they see it as an outlet for emotions, for frustration, for anger, happiness, heartbreak, love etc. It calms them, and helps them to turn a negative into a positive,” Warren said.

The Program partners with more than 100 regional affiliates consisting of: school districts, museums, colleges and universities, libraries and other educational organizations. These provide creative teens with opportunities for recognition, exhibition, publication and scholarships. Students in grades 7–12 (ages 13 and up) that attend public, private, home and U.S. schools abroad may submit work in up to 29 categories. This program helps aspiring writers and artists gain exposure. Last year was the first summer this three-week program was offered.

Jan Warren, assistant director for student services, said, “The word that I have used to describe the residency last Summer was magical. If I was giving us a grade, it was an A but I’m going for an A+ this Summer.”

As with the first run for any program, there were some bumps. “Anytime you do a program for the first time, there are a few things you wish you would’ve done differently, but the kids that came last summer are the ones that really made it phenomenal. You know, you think of a group of 70 kids coming together that there’s gonna be problems, people aren’t gonna like each other, but they all loved each other. They all loved working with each other. They all supported each other. They were just crazy wonderful human beings beyond being great artists and writers. So, it was wonderful,” Warren said.

Last summer, around 70 young writers and artists went to the camp, but this summer they’re shooting for 90. The capacity for artists is 40,with the rest being writers.

If the cost to get in is any setback, they do offer scholarships. “There are two things you can do. There are some students that get scholarships based on the awards that the got from submissions, and also financial aid for students whose families could really benefit from some additional financial support,” Warren said.

All ages from 9-12th grade are recommended to come, but Warren said she finds it most beneficial for students who are considering having art or writing as their major in college or are thinking about the University of Iowa as a school they’d like to go to. The Bucksbaum Early Entrance Academy empowers high-achieving students with a passion for STEM and the arts/humanities to begin full-time on-campus study at the University of Iowa after their sophomore year of high school.

The Bucksbaum Academy also offers scholarships. “Students are eligible for any scholarship that any other student would be eligible for. So, anything you would qualify for like any other regular student, you can have. Being a member of the Bucksbaum Academy, we the Belin-Blank Center, also give a scholarship to help with the cost. A lot of families are not thinking that their kids are going off to college in 10th or 11th grade so they haven’t maybe planned financially for that to happen a year or two early, so we’re just trying to help support those things,” Warren said.

Housing is not an issue with the Bucksbaum Academy either. Warren said, “They all live together in the Honors Residence Hall, the 8th floor of Dom. That’s a nice option because it’s connected by a skywalk to our [Belin-Blank Center] building.”

Hesitations for students in the past have been the credits they’re allowed or not allowed to take as early as their sophomore year to be able to graduate early.

“With credits, it depends on the school, and it is the schools choice how they want to handle things. I can say we’ve been extremely successful in working with schools and helping them understand what students are trying to do. Obviously, most sophomores in high school will not have met all their high school graduation requirements, and so we’re used to working with that. What we do is we collaborate with the school to say, ‘OK, what does this student need? Maybe they need senior English, or maybe they need government.’ Government is a common thing that younger students don’t have because it’s usually saved for the junior and senior year, and then we make sure that they take a class that fulfills that requirement when they come to the University of Iowa and ask the high school to accept that,” Warren said. The Junior Scholars Institute that the Belin-Blank Center offers is a week-long on-campus residential experience offered to grades 6-8.

In the Junior Scholars Institute, students can explore mixed media art such as printmaking, drawing, painting and stop-motion animation using their creative and adventurous brains.

Students can also explore Project Discovery: Finding Your Writer’s Voice. Project discovery allows students to explore a variety of creative writing formats, tour historical sites around Iowa City, listen to readings from creative writers and explore the University of Iowa’s National Writers’ Workshop.

Participating in these camps at younger ages such as 6-8th grade encourages kids to stay involved with their passions as they get older.

“Especially in areas like creative writing and art, people can pace themselves differently. In some subject areas like math, you can’t take a certain level of math until you’ve taken the previous one, you know? You kind of have to go through the sequence. The creative process with things like art and writing, you’re not as locked into those while in 6th grade you do this, and in 7th grade, you do that and so on. In the long run, it really doesn’t matter too much what age you are. You’d be surprised, for a lot of those students it’s their first time away from home and so it would be a great first experience for them to have with each other, no matter their age,” Warren said.

Top 5 Tips for a Good Submission:

  1. Submit as many quality pieces in a portfolio as you can. The more you submit, the higher your chances are.

2. Make it original, fresh and attention-grabbing that’s in a style unique to you.

3. Always, double, triple check your work for revisions or to add enhancements to it.

4. To write, you have to read, to be an artist, you have to see art. Take the time to observe.

5. Check deadlines; always submit your best work as early as possible. 

     Submission Categories:

Architecture & Industrial Design 

Art Portfolio Ceramics & Glass 

Comic Art 

Critical Essay 


Digital Art 

Dramatic Script 

Drawing & Illustration 

Editorial Cartoon 

Fashion Film & Animation 

Flash Fiction 

Future New 




Mixed Media 

Novel Writing 


Personal Essay & Memoir 




Science Fiction & Fantasy 


Short Story 

Video Game Design 

Writing Portfolio

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