What do you want to do when you grow up? Although it may seem innocent enough, this common question plagues many of us from childhood to adulthood. In college, the pressure to swiftly choose a major and plot out a career path can often lead to a frustrating and costly undergraduate experience.
To help students avoid the many pitfalls of choosing the wrong major or graduate program, Rick Cherwitz founded the Intellectual Entrepreneurship (IE) program at UT Austin in 2003. Housed within the DDCE and the Moody College of Communication, the cross-disciplinary program connects undergraduates with faculty and graduate students to help them align their passions with their career goals.
We caught up with Cherwitz, who was recently named the Ernest A. Sharpe Professor in the Moody College of Communication, to learn more about his work with the IE program and what he loves most about helping students thrive in their academic and personal lives.
What is the core mission of your work in the IE program?
Helping students discover who they really are and how they can make a contribution to the world is at the heart of my work in the IE program.
What is the value of this program at UT Austin and elsewhere?
When I was an associate dean in the graduate school in 1995, it seemed that students here at UT weren’t fully aware of the many different things they could do with their education. What was absent was a student-centered entrepreneurial approach to education. Students needed to think more in depth about what they truly wanted out of life and how they could use their education to reach their goals.
Could you tell us about an experience you had in college that inspired you to create IE?
Back when I was an undergraduate, I was determined to go to law school. I didn’t have any second thoughts about it until my political science professor said, “I know you want to become a lawyer, but do you really know what that entails?” After I job shadowed a friend of his who was a lawyer, I realized that this is not what I wanted to do with my life. If I didn’t have that experience, I wouldn’t have discovered my true passion in education.
How did you discover your interest in rhetorical research?
When I was in school back in the 1960s and 70s, I kept asking questions about why a country goes to war and would choose to stay in war for so long despite the costs. I couldn’t find any political scientists or historians who could talk about this because they didn’t look at how persuasion was done. I wanted to see how people used language and different rhetorical strategies to wind up in outcomes—good, bad, ethical and unethical. This is what brought me to UT. I came to Austin in 1977 to do some research in the Johnson archives and fell in love with the place.
How does rhetoric come into play in the IE program?
IE shows students how to take a rhetorical approach to their college experience. Anytime you have to write about who you are, what you do and where you want to go in life, there’s self-discovery. Students are also learning how to articulate to their parents their reasons for changing directions and choosing a different major that may not seem practical or possible.
The IE program has amassed a great deal of student success stories throughout the years. How does it make you feel when you read your former students’ testimonials?
I’ve been a faculty member for 37 years, and the most joyous aspect of my work is reading these testimonials. Every year, I’m excited to be a part of something that can help students find their pathway. As an educator, there’s nothing more rewarding than seeing my students happy and successful.