Researchers are trying to find members of the Class of 1960 who took part in a survey funded largely by the U.S. Department of Education called “Project Talent.” It included questions on math, science, reading and writing in an effort to assess the potential of young Americans in part in response to the space race with Russia. Seventy-five-year old John McMillin worked on the project as a young engineer, and recalls the anxiety about how to compete with things like Russia’s Sputnik satellite launch in 1957.
“Big scare. You can’t imagine the concern and the fright and the panic. Well, what’s the answer? Find out how our kids are doing, what can we do to educate them better, what can we do to keep up with the Russians during this Cold War that was coming? So Project Talent, I think, that was the sense of urgency to learn where our kids are,” Mullin explained.
About two dozen Iowa schools took part in the survey that took two-and-a-half days. Researchers also sent out follow-up surveys by mail about a decade after graduation. But the project was dropped because of a lack of funding and concerns about the difficulty of tracking down former participants.
Today, researchers are using the internet to find the students and their class reunions. Jonathan King is a program official at the National Institute on Aging. King says,”The real opportunity here is just to see how it all turned out. Now they’re older adults and we have a very good idea that some of the answers they gave there back in 1960 are the ones that can tell us a lot more about how they’ll be doing in the next five to 10 to 20 years.”
Adel High School Class of 1960 President, Don Van Fossen, says he’s glad to participate, even if he doesn’t remember much about that first study. “Two and a half days I was probably in a fog taking it,” Van Fossen says. He says he looked it up on the internet a while back to see if anything had happened with the study. And he says he’s glad they’re going to go back and see what was said 50 years ago and where they are today.
In total, about 400,000 young people took the aptitude test in March of 1960. That massive effort required scoring machines to tabulate the surveys. They were developed in Iowa City, by a non-profit research center with ties to the University of Iowa.