Intellectual Entrepreneurship Undergraduate Mentorship Course

Richard A. Cherwitz, Professor and IE Consortium Director


The IE Undergraduate Mentorship Course will build upon and extend the interdisciplinary and entrepreneurial philosophy of UT's Intellectual Entrepreneurship Consortium (IE)* and already successful IE Pre-Graduate School Internship program.** With the assistance of paid graduate student “mentors” and  “community sponsors” (members of the public and private sector seeking a well-educated, diverse workforce capable of leveraging knowledge for social good), undergraduates will work both inside and outside a contemplated discipline (major), unearthing important connections between academic fields and their personal and career aspirations. This will be a rigorous, student-centered academic exercise--one where undergraduates function as anthropologists of the academy, studying, interrogating and reflecting upon the discipline/career to which they aspire. Rather than defaulting to a particular major, students will be given an entrepreneurial laboratory in which to learn about and experiment with the many distinctive options available to them. Students not only will explore UT's vast academic landscape but will be given an opportunity to contemplate systematically and write incisively about their own participation in it; the course will culminate in students designing and regularly updating an entrepreneurial plan for their academic and post-baccalaureate career--one that enables them not only to meaningfully pick a specialized major but guides them in weaving together a tapestry of courses across the curriculum defining and linking their intellectual, personal and professional identities.


Many undergraduates enter UT uncertain about choosing a major area of study, not possessing adequate knowledge of academic nomenclature; hundreds of specialized possibilities often make little sense, frequently appearing to have limited connection to students' personal and professional interests.  In addition, most career and professional development opportunities for undergraduates emerge at the back end of their education, when soon-to-be graduates seek employment; these “placement” services not only are seen as inherently separate from the academic and intellectual work students undertake within their discipline but tend to be viewed by faculty and administrators as non-academic and secondary to scholarship and study. Moreover, a great deal of undergraduate pedagogy is overly didactic; students often are spoon-fed disciplinary knowledge without occasions to discern a particular field's unique epistemology or perspective.  While students are well-trained “to do” a discipline, they may not fully recognize what it means to approach the world from the purview of that discipline rather than or in combination with others.  

The unfortunate consequence of these shortcomings is that many undergraduates leave school not fully having tapped their own interests and aptitudes.  In addition, they graduate not thoroughly appreciating the potential contribution of disciplinary expertise or how that expertise compares, contrasts and harmonizes with other areas of inquiry--not to mention how academic knowledge might be used to help solve society's most serious problems.  What is needed is a space where undergraduates can discover in an entrepreneurial manner--where “ownership,” “risk taking,” “collaboration” and “accountability” are more than buzzwords--how their interests might serve as a compass for navigating the university, as well as harnessing, integrating and putting to work the rich knowledge produced by a campus' wide assortment of disciplines.

Meeting the Need

The IE Undergraduate Mentorship Course responds directly to this need by providing students greater agency in their undergraduate education; it will help shift the metaphor and model of students' education from one of “apprenticeship-certification-entitlement” to one of “discovery-ownership-accountability.” The IE Mentorship Course also resonates with and provides one mechanism for implementing some of the recommendations advanced by UT's Task Force on Curricular Reform, including the recently created deanship and Office of Undergraduate Studies--a potential home for the proposed IE Mentorship Course. For UT's upperclassmen, the existing IE Pre-Graduate School Internship, which serves as the model for the proposed Mentorship Course, already fills a void in the curriculum. It facilitates the sort of academic self-reflection and ownership encouraged by the IE philosophy. Interestingly, many interns, most of whom are juniors and seniors, wonder why the Pre-Grad Internship was one of the few student-centered learning experiences made available to them, why it was their first chance at UT to step back and assess the meaning and significance of disciplinary knowledge. Considering such a profound need, why not provide a similar discovery space for students at the beginning of their college tenure--empowering them to devise a thoughtful entrepreneurial plan of academic study?

Added Benefits

Instead of simply offering students more opportunities (“products”), which seems the habitual tendency of efforts to reform undergraduate education, the IE Mentorship Course would be student-driven, making available a “process” and “method” that equips underclassmen with the tools to take advantage of the already extensive--sometimes even overwhelming--catalog of courses, majors, minors and concentrations. The IE Mentorship Course will yield other positive effects.  First, by demystifying university education and making connections between academe and society, it might significantly enhance the learning of first-generation and underrepresented minority students--an effect already well-documented by the IE educational philosophy and Pre-Grad Internship. Second, the course will formally introduce into the undergraduate curriculum a unique interdisciplinary learning laboratory, one that begins with students' interests rather than predetermined topics chosen in advance by faculty and administrators--a prospect that could stimulate student curiosity, increase engaged learning and allow students to make informed academic and career choices. Third, the mentorship will afford valuable professional development for graduate students, permitting these future professors to acquire effective mentoring habits, enhance their marketability and assist the university in forging long overdo connections between undergraduate and graduate education. Finally, there is substantial potential for institutional and extramural funding (given the initiative's relationship to proposed university-wide curricular reform, efforts by educational organizations and foundations to promote service-learning and engaged scholarship, the quest to increase diversity in higher education, and the desire to provide greater accountability in undergraduate education).


  • 20-40 freshmen or sophomore students contemplating a major are selected and assigned a graduate student mentor from that discipline (undergrads selected to represent a variety of colleges and different majors)
  • One graduate student is assigned to coordinate the course
  • Each undergraduate student earns course credit (hours and course location TBT)

IE Mentorship Course Structure

  • Each student works intensively with their graduate student “mentor” to learn about a discipline
  • Some students might be assigned a “community sponsor” to help them discern the connection between disciplines and career outcomes
  • Students meet as a group with the course coordinator twice weekly to share experiences
  • Each student takes inventory of personal and professional interests and analyzes course experiences as “ethnographers of the discipline” in essay form (in addition to the course discussions mentioned above)
  • Faculty and graduate students from a variety of disciplines visit the course to discuss what it means to think form the standpoint of a specific discipline and to explore its epistemological assumptions
  • Career services personnel and members of the community visit the course to discuss possibilities available to those with degrees in different fields
  • Other on-campus staff in student affairs offices visit the course to explain strategies for taking advantage of UT's resources
  • A Blackboard site is constructed allowing students to interact and have access to the course's resources
  • The course culminates in students designing an entrepreneurial plan for their academic tenure at UT


*IE Consortium

Sponsored by and part of the portfolio of the Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement (DDCE), Intellectual Entrepreneurship (IE) is an inter-collegial Consortium of the Colleges of Communication, Liberal Arts, Fine Arts, Natural Sciences,  Engineering, Law, Education, Pharmacy, and the Schools of Information, Public Affairs and Social Work.  The mission of IE is to educate "citizen-scholars"--individuals who creatively utilize their intellectual capital as a lever for social good. IE is not a program, nor a compartmentalized academic unit or institute; it is an intellectual platform and educational philosophy for instigating learning across disciplinary boundaries, promoting diversity in higher education and generating collaborations between the academy and society. IE initiatives pertain to the undergraduate experience, graduate study, faculty research and the connections between the university and community.

**The IE Pre-Graduate School Internship

is a mentorship program that connects undergraduates with faculty and veteran graduate students in their field of study to explore those unique aspects of graduate study that make it distinct from the undergraduate experience (e.g., conducting research, writing for scholarly audiences, participating in seminars, serving as teaching and research assistants, publishing articles in professional journals, becoming members of scholarly organizations and learned societies, preparing for an academic or professional career, etc.). The Pre-Graduate School Internship allows undergraduates to investigate (anthropologically) the culture of graduate education, enabling them to make informed decisions about whether advanced study is the right choice and in what discipline such study is best pursued. In addition to serving current UT students (almost 70 in 2005-2006 and 120 in 2006-2007 from 12 UT colleges/schools) the Pre-Graduate School Internship brings bright undergraduates from local institutions (St. Edward's McNair Scholars, Southwestern honors students and Texas State master's candidates) to UT. Over 40% of Pre-Grad Interns are first-generation or underrepresented minority students.

The Pre-Graduate School Internship has been the subject of numerous national articles (including an Op-Ed by syndicated columnist William Raspberry) and has been spotlighted by several educational foundations and academic organizations/publications (Association of American Colleges and Universities, Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, Black Issues in Higher Education, Change, College & University Journal, Diverse: Issues in Higher Education).

The Pre-Graduate School Internship has obtained $20,000 annually from the Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement (to provide $500 stipends to graduate student mentors who work with a first-generation or underrepresented minority student intern) and approximately $40,000 from UT's deans (to enable interns to travel to an academic conference with their graduate student mentor).

***IE and Diversity

The philosophy of Intellectual Entrepreneurship (IE) shows great promise for increasing diversity and improving higher education for persons of color. This potential owes to the fact that IE empowers students to become entrepreneurs--to discover otherwise unobserved connections between academe and their personal and professional commitments. The spirit of intellectual entrepreneurship resonates with and meets a felt need of minority and first-generation students, many of whom desire to put their education to work,making important contributions to the community; it does so by demystifying the academic environment and facilitating exploration and innovation. IE implores students to assume ownership of and greater agency in their education, creating for themselves a world of vast intellectual and practical possibilities and acquiring the resources needed to bring their visions to fruition and to leverage knowledge for social good. Nearly fifty percent of IE Pre Grad Interns are first-generation or underrepresented minorities and this statistic is more than coincidental. More about IE's potential to increase diversity is at: