The University of Iowa

Nicholas Colangelo

Nick Colangelo, black and white photograph
Dean Nicholas Colangelo is retiring after a career dedicated to leadership, scholarship, and innovation at both the University of Iowa and across the field of education. He will be remembered not only as a pioneer in gifted education whose work impacted many individuals, but as a dean whose leadership advanced the college in countless ways.

In 1977, Albert Hood hired Colangelo as a member of the School Counseling program faculty. Even in the early days of his career, Colangelo showed much promise as a leader and scholar.

“He stood out as the top candidate both in his record and research in his graduate program and also from the great recommendations he received from his faculty at the University of Wisconsin whom I knew and respected,” Hood says.

During his time as a faculty member, Colangelo made substantial contributions to his fields of expertise — including counselor and gifted education — as well as to the greater University of Iowa campus.

“Nick has for over 30 years been a respected member of the University of Iowa faculty,” says University of Iowa Provost P. Barry Butler. “He has earned that respect by being a national leader in the field of talented and gifted education, an outstanding educator and mentor to students, and a great colleague to many faculty across campus.”

One of Colangelo’s greatest accomplishments came in 1980, when he established the Connie Belin and Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development, Iowa’s first center for gifted education.

“Nick created a unique institution that produces scholarship, scholars, and information to support public policy making, as well as provides a public service to talented and gifted children, their parents, and their teachers throughout Iowa, the United States, and the world,” says Alex Vacca, corporate director of business assessment for Northrop Grumman and a member of the Belin-Blank Center board of advisors.

In 1991, long before the Belin-Blank Center had a building and full-time staff, Vacca participated in one of the center’s first cohorts, and his time working with Colangelo has had a life-long impact.

“I’ve experienced a life-changing moment because of my time at the Belin-Blank Center,” Vacca says. “It was my first exposure to a large and diverse group of gifted students, and meeting all of them was eye opening. I discovered confidence that fueled a drive to achieve further things, and through Nick’s outreach to Belin-Blank Center alumni, I am discovering ways to bring these experiences to other gifted students and see their own progression.”

Through the programs that have grown out of the Belin-Blank Center, Colangelo has impacted the lives of many students like Vacca.

“Dr. Colangelo’s impact on kindergarten through graduate school students has been profound — life-changing — for many reasons, but perhaps the most significant is that he establishes a relationship with them and conveys that he believes in their ability to succeed,” says Susan Assouline, director of the Belin-Blank Center. “I’ve seen this over and over, whether with a group of gifted students from inner-city Chicago, with an individual student who is involved in a counseling session, or with teachers from rural Iowa who are exploring for the first time what it means to serve gifted children in under-resourced areas.”

And while Colangelo has touched the lives of many students, his work has shaped school counselors’ understandings of the role of social-emotional development and educators’ understandings of the importance of academic acceleration as an intervention for gifted students. 

“Dr. Colangelo knows how to take evidence from research and put it into everyday terms that can be used,” says Assouline.

Under Colangelo’s guidance and leadership, the Belin-Blank Center has grown to become the nation’s most comprehensive center of its kind, offering programs, services, and support for academically gifted and talented students, educators, and families from pre-K through college, all under one roof in the Blank Honors Center on the UI campus.

“Whether you count publications, degrees granted, policies made, or families served, you’ll always find the Belin Blank Center leading the way,” says Vacca. “Nick’s created a generational program, as my own children are now old enough to benefit from participating in Belin-Blank Center programs.” 

Thomas Belin, a faculty member in Biostatistics at University of California, Los Angeles who also serves on the Belin-Blank Center’s advisory board, echos Vacca’s sentiments, and notes that Colangelo’s impact extends even beyond the center.

“I would point to everything that has ever emerged from the Belin-Blank Center and all kinds of other downstream consequences in the world of gifted education and would say, ‘But for Nick, that would not have happened,’” Belin says.

After retiring from his directorship, in 2012 Colangelo was called to serve the College of Education as its dean. In this new leadership role, Colangelo worked to further situate the college as the education leader in both the state and across the nation and globe.

“Nick is the rare leader: smart, strategic, and ethical, and the leadership he displayed as dean helped the college prosper,” says Christopher Morphew, executive associate dean for research and innovation at the College of Education.

Under Colangelo’s leadership, the ITECH room, Iowa’s most technologically advanced classroom, and N110, a high-tech, collaborative learning and technology wing in Lindquist Center North, were created. He was instrumental in bringing the Iowa Reading Research Center to the college and established the position of executive associate dean for research and innovation.

Colangelo also created he college’s first advisory board, which includes some of the foremost leaders, scholars, and innovators in the field of education and beyond.

Through his work at the College of Education, Colangelo has had an indelible impact on the greater UI community.

“I have appreciated my interactions with him in multiple contexts — whether discussing editorial policy, his dreams for the Belin-Blank Center, or education policy and practice in wider domains,” says Chuck Peters, president of The Gazette Company and a member of the College of Education Advisory Board. “I have always found Nick to be a wonderful listener and thinker — progressive and practical.”

Through the legacy of his life’s work, Colangelo will continue to impact generations to come.