January 29, 2015 / 5:31 PM / 3 years ago

College is not just for the young

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Stanford University welcomed 25 unusual students onto its campus this month - all in their 50s and 60s.

They are the inaugural fellows of a new program, the Distinguished Careers Institute (DCI), designed for people who want to follow more than one career path in their lifetimes and who want to go back to a college setting for more training. It is the forefront of a new movement for universities to look beyond typical 19-year-old undergraduates.

“People are finding that their initial careers might last 20 or 30 years, and then they need to prepare for new work that might last another couple decades,” says Dr. Philip Pizzo, the founder of the program and a pioneering oncologist who is a former dean of Stanford’s School of Medicine.

DCI is similar to a Harvard University’s Advanced Learning Initiative, launched in 2009. Both are one-year programs that focus on elite “C-suite” leaders looking to transform the second half of their careers, and both are expensive. DCI costs $60,000, not including housing; tuition and other costs of the Harvard program are similar.

Pizzo, who just turned 70, arguably is launching his own next act with the institute after a distinguished career in medicine that includes stints at the National Institutes of Health and Harvard University.

He is hoping to start something of a movement. Pizzo says he will start talking with other university leaders later this year about what Stanford is learning at DCI and encourage others to embrace its principles.

“We’re an elite program, but not elitist,” he says.

Another group, the non-profit Encore.org, is also working to enlist higher education to help foster midlife career transitions. The San Francisco-based group’s “EncoreU” initiative is pushing universities to focus on older students making career changes, and it will convene a group of college presidents this fall to talk about how to make it happen. 

LIFE ON CAMPUS

Jere Brooks King is a typical mid-career education fellow. She enrolled in Stanford’s DCI program after a 35-year career in sales and marketing roles at high technology companies, punctuated by early retirement from Cisco in 2011 at age 55. She turned 59 just before DCI’s kick-off this month.

King, who has served on the boards of several non-profits and industry associations, is using the DCI fellowship to expand her knowledge of board governance. She hopes to apply that expertise working with entrepreneurial start-ups focused on technology and social innovation.

“It’s really exciting to explore the latest thinking on campus around the connection between technology and social innovation,” she says. “I‘m getting the chance to hear from venture capitalists interested in social innovation, and see what students are doing with their own ventures.”

DCI fellows pick an area of academic focus from nine areas, ranging from arts and humanities to engineering, healthcare or social sciences. They also participate in weekly discussion seminars and intergenerational mentoring and leadership sessions.

What kind of reaction are the DCI fellows getting from Stanford undergraduates?

“We think we fit right in, and we’ve been welcomed warmly,” says King. “But I‘m sure we stand out, because we all look like someone’s parent - or grandparent.”

Follow us @ReutersMoney or here; Editing by Beth Pinsker and Leslie Adler

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