UT TOWER Fellows Program invites adult professionals to explore life on the 40 Acres

Sara Schleede

Entrepreneurs, CEOs and other experienced professionals will be trading briefcases for backpacks under UT’s new TOWER Fellows Program.

Now accepting applications for the 2018–2019 academic year, the nine-month program is for those transitioning into a new career path, developing an entrepreneurial venture or hoping to explore the next stage of their life.

“(We want) to provide people with an opportunity to immerse themselves in university life today and to take advantage of the wonderful instructional facilities and resources that the University has,” said Isabella Cunningham, faculty director for the program.

The program seeks fellows with 20 to 30 years of professional experience, meaning middle-aged adults and older can live the college life, from sitting in lectures to enjoying Austin’s culture.

“Why is university education limited to young adults now that people can often change careers, or when they’re in their 50s and 60s and have another 15 years of productive work?” said Amon Burton, an adjunct professor of law who attended a similar program at Stanford.

The program will accept 25–30 fellows, who will have to pay a fee to enroll. Fellows will have access to UT’s 12,000 courses and all UT facilities and events but will not necessarily be seeking degrees.

Cunningham said undergraduates and graduates can benefit from learning from older, experienced professionals and vice versa.

“(Students) will have people who have experience in the classroom,” Cunningham said. “They’ll be able to exchange ideas. It will be a wonderful cross-pollination of knowledge.”

The TOWER Fellows program is modeled after Stanford’s Distinguished Careers Institute and Harvard’s Advanced Leadership Initiative. Mickey D’Armi, director of marketing for Texas Executive Education at the McCombs School of Business, said UT is attractive because of its wide breadth of disciplines and Austin’s well-known cultivation of art and technology.

“There are a lot of things we offer here that no one else has,” D’Armi said. “They want to be somewhere exciting, somewhere growing.”

Burton attended Stanford’s Distinguished Careers Institute in 2016 and took classes related to climate science. Burton returned to UT in the fall to teach Law and Ethics of Climate Change and Sustainability.

Burton said the experience is also an opportunity to befriend individuals from diverse backgrounds, and he plans to meet his cohorts once a year to catch up.

“Normally what happens when you (turn) 60 is your circle of friends begins to narrow,” Burton said. “What happens in a program like this is you develop an entirely new community of individuals who are curious and interested in learning something new.”

Burton said with advancements in technology and constantly changing career paths, current students may find themselves wanting to participate in the program later to rethink their options.

“It’s not just for people today who are in their 50s,” Burton said. “It’s important for current students because the world is changing so rapidly that they will likely have different careers. The University needs to be involved in this changing environment.”