Graduate program offers opportunities

Students given chance to realize potential as professionals

by JunJay Tan (Daily Texan Staff)
July 2, 2003

Richard Cherwitz's graduate program doesn't award degrees to students. Instead, it gives them the power to realize their potential as academic professionals, said Cherwitz, director of the University's Intellectual Entrepreneurship program. The Intellectual Entrepreneurship Program, or IE for short, is an interdisciplinary program for graduate and doctoral students. The program's name doesn't refer to entrepreneurship purely in the business sense of the word; rather, it refers to having vision and taking risks to advance society.

 Dr. Deborah Edward, executive director of Greenlights for Nonprofit Success, speaks to Thomas Darwin's class Tuesday afternoon. The University's Intellectual Entrepreneurship Program invites guest speakers and provides programs to help graduate students make the transition from college to a professional career. (Photo by Michelle Kovar, Daily Texan staff)

Students in the program must be working toward a degree in another graduate area, and take IE classes along with their main graduate classes. There is no IE degree, but students can get a certification.

"If you give people a degree in IE by itself, you get people specializing in IE," Cherwitz said. He said he wanted people to think of IE as a way of realizing the "value of their discipline."

IE classes often cater to each student's individual area of study, and they include such topics as entrepreneurship, professional communication and technology.

"The IE program focuses and shapes the expertise learned from any given area of study," said Tim Steffensmeier, a communication studies graduate student.

The IE program also includes "synergy groups" in which graduate students from different disciplines meet with industry and government representatives.

"A number of my best students have found [IE] very energizing," said Linda Ferreira-Buckley, associate dean of liberal arts.

About 3,000 students in 90 disciplines, ranging from mechanical engineering to English, have taken part in the program.

"Typically at the Ph. D. level we value speciality in one area, but sometimes you're a better specialist by knowing how your area relates to other subjects," Cherwitz said.

Cherwitz began IE, originally called the Graduate Development Program, in 1997.

He said he was discouraged by the "mechanistic way" graduate education was being taught.

Which may be why Cherwitz hesitates to call IE a program -- he prefers to call it a "vision" of what higher education should be.

"IE takes what's good and right with research and expands its value," he said.

IE also expands the University's research pool by sponsoring both individual and large-scale projects.

"Interpreting the Texas Past" is one of these ongoing projects. Students in the project are creating exhibits, writing literature and making films about Texas historical sites to increase public interest in them.

"The reason they take [IE] is because when they write a paper, they put it on a shelf. When they write these papers [about Texas history], they directly impact how the public looks at these sites," said Martha Norkunas, director of Texas Folklife Resources and research scientist.

"Interpreting the Texas Past" won Norkunas, Terry Sullivan, executive vice chancellor for academic affairs, and Cherwitz, who supported the project, a $10,000 Woodrow Wilson Innovation Award in 2000.

Robert Weisbuch, president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, wrote that the Intellectual Entrepreneurship program takes the country "a long way past the narcissistic old notion of professors using the Ph.D. to create clone-slaves."

Many universities throughout the country are paying attention to IE. Cherwitz said that several top research universities are interested in the program.

"It's the new model for how the university should be," said Norkunas.

Cherwitz's vision has already affected Jessica Hester, a theater and dance graduate student.

"Two significant changes happened after I got involved in the IE program: I became focused on controlling the shape of my career, and I realized that I have a responsibility beyond and within my academic work to the community I live in."}