Increasing numbers of students are taking graduate school out for a test drive before committing to the full journey.
Since its inception in 1997, the Intellectual Entrepreneurship (IE) Consortium – whose goal is to "educate citizen-scholars" – has served more than 5,000 UT undergraduate and graduate students. The Consortium, which is a collaboration of 11 of UT's colleges and schools, is part of the division of diversity and community engagement under the direction of vice president Greg Vincent.
Many of these students participate in IE's Pre-Graduate School Internship, a program established in 2003 and designed to provide a glimpse into the journey of graduate study. By fall 2010, the program will have served nearly 1,000 students. This spring, there are more than 100 IE interns working in 12 of the UT colleges and schools and representing more than 30 academic programs.
Sixty percent of interns are among the first generation in their families to attend college or are underrepresented minority students, the highest percentage since the program began. In addition, 72 percent of spring interns are women.
For Tiffany Nguyen, a natural science student considering pharmacy graduate programs, it brought a chance to take part in a national scientific conference. Katie Lee found that the IE internship solidified her resolve to go to pharmacy school where she is now in her first year. Rogelio Martinez, a senior neurobiology student considering pharmacy studies in graduate school, had the opportunity to learn about the workings of a research lab before being awarded an Undergraduate Research Fellowship. Marc Fleming, a current pharmacy graduate student, used his time as a mentor to fine-tune his advising skills in anticipation of a career in academia.
The four are among the more than 700 students who have participated in the internship program since its inception in 2003. Participants represent more than 90 academic disciplines from every college and school on the UT campus.
The object of the IE Pre-Graduate School Internship is to connect undergraduates with faculty and veteran graduate students in their proposed field to explore the unique aspects of graduate study that distinguish it from the undergraduate experience. These aspects include conducting research, writing for scholarly audiences, participating in seminars, serving as teaching and research assistants, publishing articles in professional journals, and becoming members of scholarly organizations and learned societies.
This unique perspective of education permits the student to discover his or her own passions and to develop strategies to advance exploration and learning.
Under the leadership of Dr. Richard Cherwitz, IE has evolved into a vision and philosophy that extends to all levels of education changing the model of higher education from "apprenticeship-certification-entitlement" to "discovery-ownership-accountability."
"Intellectual Entrepreneurship is a philosophy and vision of education viewing academics as innovators and agents of change," Cherwitz said. "It focuses on creating cross-disciplinary and multi-institutional collaborations designed to produce intellectual advancements with a capacity to provide real solutions to society's problems and needs.
"Intellectual Entrepreneurship includes a readiness to seek out opportunities, undertake the responsibility associated with each and tolerate the uncertainty that comes with initiating genuine innovation," he continued.
The program is open to university undergraduate students with a grade point average of at least 2.25. Students must enroll in the internship prior to completing their undergraduate studies.
Students identify a field of study that interests them. In many cases, but not all, the chosen field may be the same as the student's undergraduate major. Once a field is selected, they must identify a graduate student mentor and/or faculty member willing to supervise them.
"Students report that by rigorously exploring how to succeed, the pre-graduate school internship demystifies graduate school and the academic professional world," Cherwitz explained. "The program helps the students – many of whom are first generation students in their families – learn the unspoken rules of the game."
"More important, though, students tell me that IE provides one of the few opportunities to contemplate how to utilize their intellectual capital to give back to the community as well as their academic disciplines – matters informing the career decisions of these first-generation and minority students," he continued.
Tiffany Nguyen's participation in the IE internship program placed her in the lab of Dr. Christine Duvauchelle, associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology, and led to her attendance and participation in a national scientific conference.
"I had no idea what I was in for when the opportunity for me to attend a conference arose," she said. "The people attending the conference were really diverse and it surprised me how much research was conducted from all over the world."
Katie Lee came to the University of Texas knowing that she wanted to pursue a degree in pharmacy, but she wasn't quite sure where that would lead her. An internship under the direction of Dr. Maria Croyle, associate professor of pharmaceutics, gave her a glimpse into the possibilities. Katie applied and was approved for an IE travel grant to attend a meeting of the American Society of Gene Therapy in San Diego, CA. She is in her first year as a longhorn pharmacy student.
Rogelio Martinez's experiences in the laboratory of Dr. Richard Morrisett, professor of pharmacology and toxicology, gave him the skills to be awarded an Undergraduate Research Fellowship.
IE offers benefits, not only to the undergraduates who participate, but also to those who mentor them.
Marc Fleming is a pharmacy administration graduate student who aspires for a career in pharmacy academia. Although he has been a teaching assistant for four years, his experiences mentoring students in the IE program has given him a different experience, similar to being an advising or major professor.
"This experience has given me even more insight into what is required to guide a graduate student through the learning process, while managing my own research and commitments," he said.
Last Reviewed: January 26, 2010