Innovating Through Artistry

I Have a Student

In Uncategorized on May 9, 2009 at 4:06 am

I have a student who really Gets It. The internship idea, I mean. Last time, I introduced readers of Entrepreneur the Arts to the Intellectual Entrepreneurship Pre-Graduate School Internship. That piece was about the incarnation of a vision of education as it is taking form at one major research university: The University of Texas at Austin. But, as I intimated then, much remains to be done. What works well in one context does not always translate readily to the next; what responds to exigencies and needs of one audience does not necessarily provide the same solutions for another. I mentioned in my last post that, having moved now into a faculty position at Northern Illinois University, the challenge before me is becoming clear:


How can I use intellectual entrepreneurship to respond to the needs of this institution? How can I implement that philosophy of research, education, and community engagement? What resources might I provide based on what I have learned?


Bit o’ Context: My department has a curricular feature that it calls the Communication Practicum. For better or worse, the catalogue description of this course is broad; the specifics are subject to negotiation and agreement between the student who enrolls and the professor with whom the student collaborates. …Hmmm… collaborates? Most commonly, the Practicum assumes the form of a teaching or research assistantship. Undergraduate students assist with data collection, gathering library materials, transcription, note-taking, course preparation, and so on. And that’s great. If the student plans on post-graduate education (grad school, law school, business school, etc.) or pursuing a teaching career. But what about the vast majority of the students, the ones whose eyes are set on a “Real Job”?


For months now, I have been mulling it over. How can I use the Practicum structure for the purpose of an intellectual entrepreneurship internship? How will this round fit into the square? This is an opportunity! I don’t have to try to change an entire institutional culture after nine months on the job! (as if I could, right? Or even wanted to, really, in any radical sense…) All I have to do if offer what I know about innovation and exploration via an existing delivery mechanism. To this one student. And the marvel of it is, he totally gets it!


Bill (that’s not his real name) and I met in my office to discuss. Well, first I drew up a kind of handout/contract to specify what I had in mind for the Practicum:


The practicum provides an opportunity for students to work closely with a faculty supervisor exploring their professional, academic, and personal commitments and goals. The course objective is a strategic and well-researched plan for the future based on a few key questions: Where are you currently in your college career? What can you do to make the most of your remaining time at NIU? What do you plan to do when you graduate?


Students who wish to work with me during this experience should expect something considerably more student-driven than a teaching- or research assistantship; this practicum requires time management, individual initiative, follow-through on personal responsibilities, engagement and ambition. According to departmental guidelines, students enrolled should anticipate working, on average, three hours per week during the 15-week semester (45 hours total).


Throughout the semester each student compiles an individualized Final Portfolio: a compilation of materials relevant to his/her interests and aspirations; this portfolio is due at the end of the semester of enrollment. Students earn either a Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory grade based on part on the completion of the portfolio.


Bill came into my office with a look of excitement and relief. And maybe a hint of surprise. As we talked, it became apparent that the surprise was a reaction to my unexpected approach—I asked him what he wanted to do. The relief was a reaction to discovering that he wouldn’t have to be my TA. And the excitement was a slowly creeping realization that this Practicum really could be useful. And exactly what he needs! Who knew he could get that at school?!


Bill wants to go into sales. He’s been working for a company for several years, putting himself through college. And sales is what he wants to pursue when he graduates. Insurance, to be exact. So based on his interests and experiences, Bill and I made a list of tasks and projects that I would complete as part of his Practicum: interview several people with industry experience, research licensing procedures and required credentials (materials to be organized in a portfolio), revise and update his resume and a cover letter, and a few other “to do’s.”


During the conversation, I was thinking: This guy was an intellectual entrepreneur the moment he walked in. He is the driving force in this internship, I’m just the facilitator—exactly as it ought to be.


Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a cynic. That is, I am not one of those teachers who assumes a priori that her students wouldn’t get it. But I’ve had plenty of experiences with “good students” who do not. “Good students” have often perfected the skills required to do well in a university setting. They check off graduation requirements and get As. And they resist change; they dislike ambiguity; they do not choose autonomy. So they miss out on some of the discoveries that Bill—not your typical honors student—will undoubtedly make. And that’s why working with him, advising his experience of the New and Improved (spoken like a Colgate advertisement announcer) Intellectual Entrepreneurship Practicum!!!

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