Dr. Mary M. Frasier Spent Her Life Building Pathways for Others

Tarek Grantham, Ph.D. and Sally Krisel, Ed.D.

A child of the segregated South, Mary Frasier, born in 1938, defied the odds for African American women to become a nationally recognized scholar in gifted education and one of NAGC’s most revered leaders. After skipping two grades, Mary graduated early from high school and enrolled as a Ford Foundation Fellow at South Carolina State University (SCSU), where she earned her bachelor’s degree in Music Education and English Education at the age of 19. While teaching middle and high school music and English, Mary earned a master’s degree in Guidance and Counseling at SCSU and then left her home state to pursue a Doctorate in Educational Psychology from the University of Connecticut (UConn). Dr. Joe Renzulli, her major professor at UConn, loves to tell the story of the day Mary walked into his office, two young daughters in tow, and handed him a list, in that beautiful script handwriting so many of us came to know, of the rigorous Ph.D. program of study she had planned for herself.

Following her graduation from UConn, Dr. Frasier began a career in 1974 at the University of Georgia among a predominantly White and male faculty where for three decades she brought national and international recognition to the College of Education as a researcher, scholar, and advocate for high-ability students who are most often overlooked when traditional identification procedures are used for gifted program placement. She designed the Frasier Talent Assessment Profile (F-TAP), a comprehensive assessment system that displays multiple indicators of advanced abilities. This important tool, which is both more equitable in the identification process and more diagnostically useful when planning programming options for gifted learners, has been used successfully in school districts across the nation to identify more gifted low-income and minority students and expand gifted program services for all students who would benefit.

In the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Georgia (UGA), Dr. Frasier was the first African American woman to be promoted and tenured, and the first to earn the rank of Full Professor in the College of Education.  She served as Coordinator of the Gifted & Creative Education Program in the College for nearly 20 years. In 1984 she founded the Torrance Center for Creative Studies to honor and continue the work of her colleague, E. Paul Torrance, a Distinguished Professor of Education at UGA and a pioneer in gifted education. Mary served as Director of the Center for more than a decade.

When the Jacob-Javits Gifted and Talented Students Act was passed by Congress in 1988, three universities, including UGA, formed the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented (NRCGT) to address the goals of this landmark legislation. Dr. Frasier and her team were assigned what was called the “first absolute priority” of the work – to find better ways to identify gifted students from underrepresented populations (minority, economically disadvantaged, English language learners, and students with disabilities). Mary was Associate Director and Primary Investigator for the NRCGT from 1990 to 1995. In 2002 she was named Aderhold Distinguished Professor, one of the highest honors in UGA's College of Education.

Dr. Frasier served as president of the NAGC Board of Directors from 1987-89. Her extraordinary leadership and contributions to the field have been recognized by NAGC in numerous ways, including its Distinguished Service Award (1991) and Ann F. Isaacs Founder's Memorial Award (2002). However, the honor that undoubtedly would please Mary most is the Javits-Frasier Teacher Scholars Program, created following Mary’s death in 2005 to honor her pioneering and highly influential work in identifying and teaching students who are underrepresented in gifted education programs. This unique professional learning opportunity for teachers, school counselors, psychologists, and others who work in Title I schools and are passionate about helping all gifted children has now trained more than 200 educators from across the nation.

It was Mary Frasier’s rare combination of brilliant scholarship and personal warmth that allowed her to connect with and inspire educators at all levels to look beyond the racist and sexist ideologies that put children at risk so their potential giftedness could be recognized and developed. All those who worked with Mary Frasier recognized that she lived the values she poured into her work. She intentionally took a proficiency view of her students, her colleagues, and the countless educators and policy makers with whom she worked. She nurtured their strengths and was generous in her support, both professionally in the field of gifted education and personally at home. Although rarely discussed, it cannot be overstated that as an African American woman who broke many glass ceilings created by male-dominated spaces where women were marginalized, Mary found solace in her life outside of work as a beloved wife to her dear husband, Richard Frasier, and a loving mother to her daughters, Deidre Frasier and Mariel Frasier Blake.  Few women, much less African American women, have achieved Mary’s level of professional success and personal achievement, and we celebrate her life and accomplishments because she paved the way for women (and men) who are gifted education scholars, leaders, and parents to engage in equity-oriented work with passion, integrity, and grace.