Intellectually Curious Undergrads Thrive in IE Program
Many students enter college not knowing exactly what career they want to pursue; they try out different classes like they try on clothes – with hopes of finding a perfect fit. While the lucky ones find that fit their freshman year, some are unsure of their career plan even after graduation. In 2003 Richard Cherwitz, a professor in communication studies, founded the Intellectual Entrepreneurship (IE) internship to assist students with this ongoing issue.
As part of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement at The University of Texas at Austin, IE strives to connect intellectually curious undergrads with mentors in the graduate programs of their choosing. For one semester, participants work with a mentor to explore a selected discipline. For example, a liberal arts undergraduate student interested in getting an MBA could use this program to test the waters of business school. Although the program is open to all disciplines across the UT campus, Cherwitz says that business courses are a popular choice among IE students – with anywhere from 12 to 15 McCombs mentor/mentee pairs each semester and nearly 100 since its launch.
"IE implores students to create for themselves a world of vast intellectual and practical possibilities, acquiring the resources needed to bring their visions to fruition," says Cherwitz.
Not only does IE allow students to sample different fields, it also offers grant and travel opportunities. Thus it comes as no surprise that the program has nearly tripled its enrollment in recent years, with more than 200 students enrolled last semester.
When psychology major Madeline Keulen, BA '14, enrolled in the program, she had no idea she would form a life-long bond with her mentor. After reaching out to Erin Whalen, MBA '13, the two became a pair. Within the program, students can find mentors with the help of an advisor or they can reach out on their own, and because Whalen was fairly well known in the business school for her entrepreneurship involvement and appearance on ABC's Shark Tank, Keulen thought it would be a perfect fit.
"Erin had a blog on the McCombs website. I was reading through the blog posts of a lot of the MBA students, and her way of writing was just fantastic and the experiences that she had were relevant to things that I wanted to do," says Keulen. "And so I reached out and contacted her, and I was very fortunate that she responded back to me."
Within one semester, the IE program enabled Keulen to launch her own confectionary business, conduct research on entrepreneurship in Rome, and plan her future as an MBA student. Although she is putting her business (Dolcetti) on hold for a few years, Keulen commended the IE program for allowing her to test different options. From sitting in on Whalen's classes to participating in McCombs events like MBA For A Day, Keulen experienced a wide-range of the business school’s offerings.
"No matter what industry I would have been in, she was just so helpful in understanding the process of what it takes to be an entrepreneur," says Keulen of her mentor.
However, the program doesn't just benefit the undergraduate students: Whalen describes her time as a mentor as "more rewarding that I thought possible."
"Madeline and I will be connected for the long stretch," says Whalen. "Having this opportunity to watch an undergrad spread her wings has been wonderful… and very rewarding."
These types of success stories aren't uncommon within the program. Jordan Ramirez, Corporate Communications '13, praises IE for its networking and mentor opportunities. Before Ramirez joined IE as a junior, he had nine roommates and not one of them took the bus to campus – even though the stop was right in front of their house. Determined to utilize public transportation, Ramirez began developing and pitching a GPS-based tracking application that would provide real-time transit information to commuters' smartphones.
"The idea grew, formed, and flourished in the program," he says.
However, it wasn’t until after graduation that he caught his big break. RideScout, an Austin-based transit app, not only offered Ramirez a job but also the opportunity to expand on his business model within the company.
"For those with the ambition to believe that they can do anything within the realm of reason, the IE Program will give answers to the question of how," says Ramirez.