Intellectual Entrepreneurships Seek to Increase Diversity at the Graduate Level
In a nation struggling to fully understand and increase diversity throughout its college classrooms, there is a unique internship program with the potential to change the complexion of the student population at the post-graduate level - right here at the University of Texas at Austin.
The Pre-Graduate School Internship, a key component of the Intellectual Entrepreneurship (IE) Program, encourages minorities and first-generation college students to look beyond the realm of conventional post-graduate decisions, such as law and medical school, by connecting them with faculty mentors and seasoned graduate students in their area of study.
The program pairs interns with graduate student "buddies" and faculty "mentors" who help them gain a better understanding of post-graduate education. Interns work with their mentors on research projects, observe graduate classes, shadow graduate student teaching and research assistants, and participate in departmental events and disciplinary conferences. The students also participate in workshops where they discuss their experiences and explore their futures.
Both the internship and the IE Program were conceived and are directed by Communication Studies professor Richard Cherwitz and have been spotlighted in U.S. News and World Report, Black Issues in Higher Education, Texas Innovator and College & University Journal.
"The IE internship aims to solve long-term diversity problems by helping minorities and other undergraduates abandon what I call 'tunnel vision,' and get in touch with their passions," explained Cherwitz. "Through the IE Program, students can discover - in an entrepreneurial manner - the best way to bring their visions to fruition; something not always facilitated by traditional outreach programs."
Indeed, universities across the country are recognizing that UT's IE program has the potential to do more than simply redistribute the existing minority student population, but that it may be one way to solve the age-old lack-of-diversity problem at the graduate level. Cherwitz and some of his students were invited to present an overview of the program last month at the Yale Bouchet Conference on Diversity in Graduate Education.
Since the internship's formal inception last fall (it was developed as a pilot project in 2002), 45 students, representing nearly every college on campus, have enrolled; approximately one-third of those students are minorities.
Junior political communication major Cristina Limas is one example of the potential impact of the Pre-Graduate School Internship. After participating in the internship last semester she felt she had discovered many new options for her long-term goals.
"As the first person in my family to attend undergraduate school - never mind graduate school - I didn't realize getting a graduate degree was an option," Limas said. "This program is not just good for minorities, but for all students who have never thought about grad school. And Professor Cherwitz is a mentor for me. He really taught me to explore my future and myself. Overall this internship has opened so many doors."
"The IE program is unique in that it moves beyond the top-down model of education," Cherwitz continued. "Focusing on admissions and financial aid won't markedly increase diversity. The IE Program changes the metaphor of education and recruitment from one of apprenticeship-certification-entitlement to one of discovery-ownership-accountability."