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A Publication of THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN
Graduate students discovering new opportunities through IE Program
By Laura Grund
Controlling one's own destiny falls under the category of "ownership." It's about taking a little bit of risk and stating what you think is important. It is easy for people to doubt themselves if they believe they have no control over their destinies.
This can be true especially for graduate students, who tend to find themselves in competitive, rigorous environments where they must "jump through hoops" to succeed as budding scholars.
At The University of Texas at Austin, the Graduate School's Intellectual Entrepreneurship Program (IE) is, in the words of one graduate student, "allowing students to re-empower themselves, so they can get back control over their own education, their own future. It lets students be more self-directed and pro-active, chart their own course, and evaluate their options in terms of education and career."
"Isn't that precisely what graduate education and scholarly training are all about?" said Rick Cherwitz, associate dean and director of the IE Program.
Since its inception in 1997, the mission of the program has been to create opportunities for students to discover their discipline, celebrate the value of their expertise and become successful academic professionals. Its theme is that graduate students are more than scholars: they are "citizen-scholars" whose knowledge allows, and perhaps obligates, them to contribute to numerous venues.
Five years into the program, it is evident that graduate students are thinking in new ways and seizing new opportunities as a result of their experience.
In both cross-disciplinary and discipline-specific environments, students are offered training and assistance in such areas as academic and professional communication and writing, pedagogy, team building and collaboration, technology, ethics, consulting and entrepreneurship. The IE Program creates "spaces" designed to help graduate students discover and take advantage of the enormous value of their scholarly expertise and to be successful and resilient academic professionals.
"The consulting class requires students to examine their passions," said Jill McClure Lowery, an advertising doctoral candidate who took the IE Program's consulting class with Dr. Thomas Darwin, coordinator and faculty member in the program. Lowery said when she first started grad school, she thought her options were limited to the traditional routes of either the academy or an advertising agency. Now, she is thinking more about what she loves and how to make her education support it.
"In addition to simply imparting knowledge, the consulting course encourages students to approach entrepreneurship as both a scholarly and business endeavor," Lowery said.
"In Dr. Darwin's class, we examined our personal skills and the best way to use them, with the goal being a satisfying career. Since completing the consulting class, I have taken additional steps to follow my true passion, which is event management, instead of possibly more expected or traditional routes."
Consonant with the philosophy of the IE Program, the objective of the consulting class is to foster collaboration among academic disciplines and put into place effective and sustainable structures that enable graduate students to "own" their education and professional development. Grad students from many different disciplines have taken and benefited from the class, including Julie Kern, a fourth-year doctoral candidate in the College of Pharmacy, Division of Pharmacology and Toxicology. Since Kern's graduate program is focused on scientific-related didactics and research, she wanted experience beyond the strong science emphasis so she could explore all her options.
"This course opens your mind to thinking about what you can do as a professionally educated individual to improve a program or situation for the betterment of others," she said. "I got an opportunity to think 'out of the box' about what I could do to improve life for others, develop a plan to act on this vision and, ultimately, make it happen." Kern plans to pursue an academic post-doctoral position.
Another popular IE course is entrepreneurship (GRS 390G), which is designed to help students identify opportunities to put their training and expertise to use in creative ways, whether in business, scholarship or other areas.
Regardless of a student's discipline, coming up with good ideas, finding good problems to work on, securing resources needed to conduct research and disseminating findings are all entrepreneurial. This course assumes that creativity and innovation are inherently collaborative, and that the ability to integrate different viewpoints is critical to success.
David Middleton, a student at the McCombs School of Business, took the entrepreneurship class last summer and is taking an IE class in academic and professional communication.
"Both the entrepreneurship class and the academic and professional communication class have had a diverse group of students from several different disciplines, which has been very rewarding in terms of the quality and the thoroughness of the feedback," he said. "Both of these classes have provided me with structured techniques that I have been able to utilize while pursuing both my personal and professional goals."
The IE program also offers courses and internships for graduate students interested in a more traditional career in academe. One of the better-known IE projects is Preparing Future Faculty (PFF), a national initiative to develop model programs that better prepare graduate students interested in a teaching career.
GRS 390N (PFF Internship) gives graduate students from research universities like UT Austin the opportunity to work with local institutional "partners" that primarily serve undergraduates, such as liberal arts colleges, community colleges and comprehensive universities.
These local partnerships offer graduate students the chance to gain first-hand experience by observing and participating in carrying out responsibilities such as teaching and advising, curriculum development, and departmental and committee service that will form the core of their responsibilities as new faculty members. Five partner institutions comprise the University of Texas cluster: Austin Community College, Huston-Tillotson College, St. Edward's University, Southwest Texas State University and Southwestern University.
Theatre doctoral candidate Carolyn Roark participated in PFF at St. Edward's University in the fall of 2000. She said the PFF internship was a perfect match for her, as she eventually wants to be a professor at a college similar to St. Edward's. Her position as teaching assistant for an acting class was so positive, she started her own teaching workshop last semester as part of PFF to help prepare other graduate students going into internships.
The IE Program is helping many graduate students become "citizen-scholars" who can use their expertise to make a difference in their discipline and in the community.
"In addition to furthering my education, the IE Program has made me feel not just like a graduate student in search of knowledge, but a person who can actually make something beneficial happen in the world with my knowledge," said Kern.