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Graduate education for the real world

UT training students to apply their skills in nonacademic settings

By Erik Rodriguez
Monday, June 3, 2002

There was a time when Alice Chu believed her only career option was to be a university professor.

Then Chu, a doctoral student in linguistic anthropology at the University of Texas, took a class that changed her mind. Now, she thinks she could be a consultant for a nonprofit agency or for the federal government, as well as a teacher.

"I'm still thinking about teaching, but it doesn't have to be in the classroom," Chu said. "It can happen on the street; it can happen in a congressional hearing. I want to use my teaching skills for more practical uses outside the theoretical realm."

She's one of hundreds of UT graduate students who have taken courses as part of the Intellectual Entrepreneurship program, which is designed to help students change the way they think about their education. The program is training students to find places in the work force inside or outside of academia where they can contribute, university officials said.

picture of Richard CherwitzRichard Cherwitz, an associate dean in the UT office of graduate studies, said he developed the program in response to a growing call for reform in graduate education.

"The marketplace wasn't very good. We asked, 'What kind of experience can we give graduate students that will maximize their value?' " said Cherwitz, who also teaches graduate courses in communication studies.

Each year, tens of thousands of students graduate with master's and doctoral degrees, giving them expertise usually suited for work in research or academia. Many of those students end up competing for a shrinking number of academic jobs, and fewer than half receive faculty positions, according to a 2001 national survey of doctoral students funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, a national philanthropic group. The survey also reported that students weren't receiving practical training and weren't adequately prepared for the work force outside of academia.

UT, which enrolls more than 10,000 graduate students, already was providing workshops and internships to prepare students for work in academia. In 1996, Cherwitz expanded on that, adding writing, teaching and communication courses specifically for graduate students.

This year, the Intellectual Entrepreneurship program offers 16 courses for graduate students in all disciplines on topics including entrepreneurship, consulting, culture and ethics.

"What we're doing for those students is getting them to think about it from day one: who they are, what their discipline is and how they have value," Cherwitz said.

The idea is catching on. Other institutions, including the University of North Carolina, Arizona State University and the University of Minnesota, have expressed interest in starting similar programs, Cherwitz said.

As part of the program, students also participate in "synergy groups" gatherings of graduate students, their professors and industry professionals to solve real-world problems. Last semester, group participants included the Seton Healthcare Network.

Travis Froehlich, Seton vice president of planning and marketing, said the group focused on ways to improve the hospital's community outreach and advocacy efforts.

"This is the first time we've been part of a group where the goal is to do a multidisciplinary look at how their areas of expertise coincide with ours, and the result is really very, very rich," Froehlich said.

The success of the program can be seen in written reviews from educators and researchers nationwide and in testimonials from more than a dozen current and former students.

Cherwitz has applied for a $600,000 Partnerships in Innovation grant from the National Science Foundation to continue developing the program.

Paul Gilroy, a UT student who is pursuing a doctoral degree in higher education finance, applied the principles of the program to form his own business.

He credits the Intellectual Entrepreneurship program as the impetus for founding Sarasota, Fla.-based ProEducation Solutions LLC, which markets products and services to colleges and families.

"It made me see the connection with what I'm doing with school work and goes beyond the ivory walls of academia into the private sector," Gilroy said.

The program also can help students develop their rsum to help them be more competitive when applying for faculty positions, said Chu, the linguistics student. Other students, meanwhile, are finding an alternative to teaching, she said.

"These courses are really helping us feel confident with our skills," she said. "When you go out of academia, you're helping others see the benefit of your degree."; 445-3673