Innovating Through Artistry

Posts Tagged ‘University of Texas-Austin’

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!!!

Leaving the Program, Finding the Vision

In Creativity and Innovation, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS, Entrepreneurial Evolution on April 27, 2009 at 9:38 am

It has been almost a year since I left the University of Texas and the Intellectual Entrepreneurship Consortium. It wasn’t an easy thing to do. Leaving, that is. IE has become, as Tommy Darwin so compellingly argued a couple of weeks ago right here on ETA, a life force at one of the nation’s largest public universities. What began as bold initiative by professor Rick Cherwitz in the late 1990s is now a nationally recognized maverick—that’s right, I’m reclaiming the word!—in the herd mentality of university administration. IE supports and challenges faculty, staff, and students at all levels to think like entrepreneurs, to be innovative inventors and thinkers, to tolerate ambiguity, to seek allies, and to make bold moves. It is inspiring to see, and it was exciting to a part of.


Starting in August of 2005 I served as director of one of IE’s successful “programs”: the Pre-Graduate School Internship. (I place “program” in quotations marks to indicate the difference between traditional academic silo-mentality programming and new initiatives that grow from the IE platform. But that’s another post for another time). My primary responsibility as director was to oversee and advise about 80 undergraduate interns each semester. I lead regular meetings wherein the interns addressed those concerns that transcend disciplinary lines (e.g. application processes, funding, academic versus professional careers, life-work balance, etc.). Between meetings, I facilitated communication with interns and graduate student mentors, allowing them to share reflections on their works in progress.


The nuts ‘n bolts: The Pre-Graduate School Internship enables undergraduate students to earn academic credit working closely with a “faculty supervisor” and/or “graduate student mentor” to explore their chosen field of study. Interns learn about the unique aspects of graduate study that make it distinct from their undergraduate experience. Examples of internship activities include: attending graduate school classes, shadowing graduate student teaching and research assistants, attending seminars and departmental colloquia, interviewing faculty, collaborating with mentors on research projects, traveling to meetings of graduate and professional organizations, working in research labs and discussing graduate study and career development with faculty, professionals and graduate students.  Additionally, all IE students keep a personal journal and attend workshops/meetings where they reflect on their experiences and exchange insights about themselves and the culture of academia.


The Big Picture: Pre-Graduate School Internship and its sister programs are sponsored by the University of Texas Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement. Each semester, 50% of participants are underrepresented minorities (African American, Latino or Native American) and/or first-generation (neither parent graduated from college) students. Almost 70% are female. The philosophy of intellectual entrepreneurship—empowering students to design and own a learning experience that unites their passions and academic interests—accounts for much of this effect. For example, rather than focusing exclusively on students already interested in graduate study and helping them navigate the application process, the Pre-Graduate School Internship provides an opportunity for students to discover their personal aspirations and explore the value of academic disciplines. The program’s mechanism for increasing diversity inheres in its capacity to help students discover otherwise unobserved connections between academia and personal and professional commitments. Interns become “intellectual entrepreneurs,” identifying their personal and professional goals, and discovering how advanced education can bring them to fruition; this includes acquiring an understanding of how graduate education equips students for meaningful civic or community engagement.


Leaving wasn’t easy. During my tenure as director, the Internship grew from fifteen students in the first semester to nearly one hundred in the spring of 2008, and now over a hundred. That’s not my being boastful; the Internship’s success attests not to one person’s creativity or organizational skills, but to an exigency in the academy. It is telling us that a need exists, for students as well as faculty. Just as some faculty seek new ways of being innovative problem solvers, engaging with the community around them in ways other than service delivery, so do students want to approach their college careers in less mechanistic ways than are currently the norm. “Entrepreneurial” doesn’t mean “corporate.” Let us use the term for its best possible potential: entrepreneurship is the realization of creative energy. And if that’s too touchy-feely for you, think of it as wielding power—intellectual, political, social, economic, artistic, collaborative.


While leaving a good thing is never easy, it often leads to other good things. In my current position as an assistant professor in the Department of Communication, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL I am realizing that, while IE is continually challenged at UT, things are in motion there; on many other campuses, the fundamental philosophy that sustains IE as a “program” has yet to be introduced. That is the thrill of a new phase. And that will likely be the trajectory of my future postings.

Intellectual Entrepreneurship and New Minds for the Future

In Author: Tommy Dawin, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS on April 6, 2009 at 10:13 pm

Here’s the problem—we are facing unprecedented challenges that require new ways of thinking, and the cultivation of new capacities for innovation and problem solving. We have to revamp our entire education system from K through continuing education for adults, re-orienting it to educate people who have to think and act in a world that is more fluid and unpredictable than ever before. Beyond job retraining, we have to cultivate (to blend Daniel Pink and Howard Gardner) whole new minds for the future.

Question is how we do this, especially in Universities, which benefit from and are hindered by having been in the business of cultivating minds for a long time. Universities are in very real ways trapped by the sheer intellectual momentum of their own traditions, even as those traditions provide the grounds of possibility for innovation. Universities, especially major research Universities, run the risk of becoming the educational equivalent of a big-three automaker—doomed to irrelevance if not outright failure. Their momentum will carry them for a long way, but not indefinitely.

Of course, the seeds of radical change are always growing within these same Universities, manifested in multiple ways. For example, Universities have understood for some time that knowledge becomes most relevant when it can be applied to real world challenges, yielding new understanding and ways to engage pressing challenges. Towards this end, Universities have been the sites of pedagogical innovations like experiential learning, project based learning, internships, and mentoring, all designed to enhance a student’s education by providing “real world” application and experience. Similarly, many new forms of University-Industry partnership have emerged, focused especially on the commercialization of university-based technology or the incubation of university-based businesses.

Though powerful, these pedagogical innovations still focus on disciplines and majors and do not go far enough to cultivate the very thing that is most necessary now—individuals with the knowledge, commitment, and courage to innovate, on their own and with others. In other words, now more than ever it is imperative for Universities to foster and cultivate intellectual entrepreneurship. And, perhaps the most successful example of a university responding to this challenge is a program at the University of Texas at Austin that takes this imperative as its very name—the Intellectual Entrepreneurship Consortium (IE). In upcoming posts, there will be much more about the concept and enactment of intellectual entrepreneurship, drawing from the work of IE at the University of Texas.

I will conclude this post, though, by sketching some of the principles that have guided IE at UT Austin and provide a critical framework for the growth of intellectual entrepreneurship as a concept and practice. First, entrepreneurship transcends the creation of new businesses or ventures. While new venture creation is one of the most powerful expressions of an entrepreneur, at their core entrepreneurs are cultural innovators. Entrepreneurs are tuned in to the deeper cultural currents from which new meanings and imperatives emerge. They are able to create new space within which those meanings and imperatives can be articulated and engaged. Second, entrepreneurs have the courage to act first, before they know the answers, or even all the questions. They are comfortable with ambiguity, and while they are oriented to solving problems, they recognize that one problem’s solution lays the ground for an entirely new set of problems. Third, despite the cultural myth of the entrepreneur as lone ranger, entrepreneurs are profoundly connected and collaborative. They always have a double mission—engaging opportunities as they emerge and sustaining a living web of relationships that makes innovation and valuable change possible. Finally, entrepreneurs see through the cult of creativity, the belief that only certain people are creative or can be the source or profound and valuable change. Entrepreneurs understand that we are all creative, all capable of engaging our own situations for the better, and all capable of continually building this capacity. Which brings me back to where this post began—our greatest imperative now is to teach everyone we can how to be entrepreneurial and creative, inside the university and out.