The Many Faces of Gifted: Manning

August 6, 2013

By Carole Rosner

Every gifted person has a unique story. The following story is part of a series of posts depicting the many faces of gifted by highlighting gifted children and adults we have found through IEA programs. The Caroline D. Bradley Scholarship program – mentioned in this story – awards highly gifted applicants with a four-year scholarship to a high school that fits their individual, intellectual and personal needs.

Manning CDB

Manning Ding
2003 CDB Scholar
Business Analyst, McKinsey and Company, Minneapolis

Before Manning Ding graduated with highest honors from Harvard in 2012, and before she worked in Kampala, Uganda, and Beijing, China, she was a junior high school student in Iowa who was awarded the Caroline D. Bradley Scholarship. The merit-based scholarship let her attend any high school of her choice, and she chose Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.

“It was Exeter’s ‘Harkness’ method that did it for me. At Exeter, every class is conducted in discussion format, with 12 students and a teacher sitting around an oval table trading questions for answers on subjects from author Jhumpa Lahiri’s short stories to how to prove the Pythagorean Theorem.

“I remember visiting Exeter in 8th grade and sitting in on an Existentialism course. I think I said one thing the entire time, but it was still exhilarating to listen in on the richness of dialogue across the Harkness Table by 14- and 15-year-olds,” Manning explained.

In addition to covering the cost of tuition for four years of high school, the Institute for Educational Advancement invites the CDB Scholars to an annual weekend gathering, called the Bradley Seminar, that includes discussions on a global and personal scale.

“My favorite memory was returning as an alumna to the Bradley Seminar with four other Scholars in my class and realizing that we were closer than ever before, sharing college updates and CDB recollections and endless laughter. Seeing Bonnie [Bonnie Raskin, CDB Program Coordinator] and Betsy [Elizabeth Jones, IEA President] and the younger classes of Scholars at the Seminar really cemented for me the realization that being a CDB Scholar has been a part of who I am since the age of 13, and it’ll always be a part of who I am. We, the Scholars, may grow up, but we won’t grow apart from the CDB community.”

Manning graduated Harvard with a degree in Economics, but didn’t start off majoring in Econ. “I actually went into Harvard thinking I would be a China correspondent at some international news agency. During my first two years in college, I vacillated between Economics (which addressed some of the world’s toughest development questions in an intellectually honest way) and Philosophy (for its rigor of thinking).

“Of course, the great thing about Harvard is the breadth and depth of opportunities available. So while I was able to delve into fascinating topics in Economics (by taking grad-level courses and working as a research assistant for professors), I was also able to try out a range of potential careers through extracurricular activities (I reported news for The Crimson and headed Harvard Yearbook Publication), internships (at various investment banks and the Beijing bureau of Thomson Reuters) and fellowships and research opportunities (which funded my summers in China, Tanzania, and Uganda).”

Prior to graduation, Manning applied for, and received a Fulbright Award. The Fulbright Award is sponsored by the United States Department of State, Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, and is known as America’s flagship international exchange program. It is a competitive, merit-based grant that facilitates the exchange of students, scholars, and teachers between the United States and over 155 countries worldwide.

“I applied for the Fulbright during senior year of college and was fortunate to receive the grant, allowing me to spend 10 months after graduation researching Chinese social enterprises and economic development. The Fulbright is very flexible – while they provide you with a support network of local researchers and resources, I had complete ownership of my project and was solely responsible for driving the project forward. It has definitely been a challenging but rewarding opportunity both in terms of cultural exchange and career development.”

Manning explained more about the China Fulbright application process, saying, “The applicants determine the location and scope of the research project and are responsible for securing a host academic institution and a local advisor. They then submit a project proposal explaining the motivation behind their project and the methods by which they intend to carry out the project.

“As part of my research, I interviewed Beijing- and Shanghai-based social entrepreneurs, worked with both a foreign-run and a government-backed social enterprise incubator, organized dinners for female social entrepreneurs in Beijing, helped professors at some of China’s top universities put together a white paper (one of the first of its kind) outlining the state of Chinese social enterprises, and spent four months at a social enterprise aiming to revolutionize Chinese rural education with digital tablets.”

I asked Manning for the definition of a “social enterprise.” She explained, “Social enterprises are an exciting new model that is currently receiving increasing attention in China (and across the world) for its ability to solve social and environmental issues that the government and the market are not necessarily in a position to address. The legal and academic definition of ‘social enterprise’ is still being heatedly debated, particularly in China. There are, however, a couple of commonly accepted definitions of social enterprises.

“Social enterprises are essentially businesses whose primary purpose is to do social good. They’re different from non-profit NGOs in that social enterprises are financially self-sustaining and do not rely primarily on donations. They’re different from businesses (even socially responsible businesses) in their impact-first (versus finance-first) approach.”

This summer, Manning began work as a Business Analyst at global management consulting firm McKinsey and Company in Minneapolis. Since she’s a recent college grad, I asked her for any advice to incoming college freshman. I think her words of wisdom are perfect for any student or adult in a new situation:

“Be present. Half of achieving anything in college is simply showing up. Show up to lectures, extracurriculars, events. Show up on time, and stay the whole time. Put away your cell phones and laptops and tablets and actually engage that professor or speaker or new acquaintance — ask questions, remember names, take notes. You’ll be amazed at how much you’ll learn and grow if you are simply fully present. And of course, take risks, have adventures, try not to pull too many all-nighters and always remember to laugh.”

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