Is Project Talent looking for you?
Area students in national study decades ago BY TOM KNAPP, Staff Writer
It's been more than 50 years. It's time to see how they're doing.
Project Talent, a national survey developed by the American Institutes for Research, polled 747 Manheim Township students back in 1960.
Those students, who were in the classes of 1960 through 1963 at Manheim Township High School, participated in a grueling, several-day examination to learn more about their abilities and prospects in life.
They weren't alone -- some 440,000 students from a broad range of demographic groups across America took similar surveys that year. Now, Project Talent is trying to track down surviving participants for a follow-up interview.
The original survey assessed aptitudes and abilities, hopes and expectations.
That study, according to Sabine Horner, director of outreach and communications for Project Talent, was "very extensive. This could never be re-created in modern times."
Participating schools tested their students for the equivalent of two full school days, she said. "It was a pretty large commitment on the school's part."
Students were tested on math and language skills, clerical abilities, abstract and mechanical reasoning, "all kinds of things," Horner said.
"They also asked them personality-related questions. Their interests, expectations about the future, aspirations, their home life, things about their moms and dads. It probed their socio-economy situations. ... It was comprehensive."
Survey results have been made available to many researchers over the years, Horner said.
According to the Project Talent website, the study "produced a wealth of information about a generation of Americans that came of age at a transformative time in American history. Data from the study has informed over 450 government reports, academic articles and scholarly books."
The website also notes the project "was one of the earliest studies to analyze the relationship between socioeconomic status and educational achievement and the effects of personality, family, and school on career decisions."
The American Institutes for Research designed the study to be "very nationally representative," Horner said. "Small towns, big cities, private, parochial and public schools -- a real snapshot of the country in 1960."
When the call went out for volunteers, "they had a far more enthusiastic response than anticipated," she said. "Manheim Township would have been invited, and they accepted."
Once a local school district was selected to participate, she added, other districts in the area would have been eliminated from consideration.
Since the study in 1960, researchers have followed up with the students on three occasions -- one year, five years and 11 years after graduation.
"The last follow-up was 35 years ago," Horner said.
Participation in the follow-ups was spotty, she said, because many of the students were hard to track down.
"It all depended on how easy they were to find," she said -- particularly for women who married and changed surnames.
In preparation for this latest survey, researchers performed a test study in 2011 with 1 percent -- about 5,000 people -- of the original participants.
"Our results were overwhelmingly positive," Horner said.
"Some don't even remember taking part in this study. Some do. Some have vivid memories."
The new survey will assess how family and educational background affected participants and why some stayed healthier and happier than others.
"We hope to create sort of a life-course database that will allow researchers to use it as they want -- they can study it in limitless ways," Horner said.
"It will deal with health and retirement. Why are some aging well and successfully? Why are others struggling, financially or physically?"
These issues "are very current right now. We have an aging population," Horner said.
For instance, she explained, "Alzheimer's and dementia are huge issues, financially for the country as well as emotionally for their families.
"Are there predictive factors? Are there protective factors?"
Right now, she said, they're just looking for contact information. They'll likely follow up with a written questionnaire, maybe a phone call.
"We've tracked down maybe 30 from Manheim Township so far -- not a great amount," Horner said.
"There's some talk of trying to follow up with future generations," she said. "Children and grandchildren -- but that's all in the planning stages."
Study participants are asked to call 866-770-6077 or email email@example.com. They also can visit the Project Talent website, project talent.org.
"You can request your original aptitude scores from 1960, which is pretty interesting," Horner said.
Researchers are asking for help from anyone with knowledge of the whereabouts of study participants.
"There are some classes where we have pretty much everybody,'' Horner said. "Some schools keep fantastic (alumni) directories."
Directories created in some districts for the students' 50th high school reunions have been especially useful, she added.
"If you can find that one person in the school who's kept track of their classmates, that's golden," she said.
"That's so helpful."
"We hope to create sort of a life-course database ... . Why are some aging well and successfully? Why are others struggling, financially or physically?"