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Stanford Is Looking For a Few Good Midlifers

You may want to apply to its new Distinguished Careers Institute

By Richard Eisenberg

At Next Avenue, we often recommend people in midlife go back to school to take a class or to get a degree. It’s a great way to keep your skillset current or immerse yourself in knowledge that’ll help you launch a new career.
Now, Stanford University is ramping up an intriguing, unique, year-long, on-campus program for accomplished professionals who’ve worked 20 to 30 years that takes this idea to a new level. 
The New Institute

It’s called the Stanford Distinguished Careers Institute and sprang from the brilliant mind of Dr. Philip Pizzo, the former Dean of Stanford’s School of Medicine. I met the Institute’s Founding Director recently when we participated in the Milken Institute’s Successful Aging Innovation Summit in Los Angeles.
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The Stanford Distinguished Careers Institute, which is accepting applications for its first class of 20 students beginning in January 2015, is looking for established leaders who are eager to “deepen their knowledge and/or embrace new fields” and “reflect on their life journeys, explore new pathways and redirect their lives for the common good.”

Here’s the kicker: Spouses and partners of the Institute Fellows can participate, too.
“What I’m interested in is how universities reorient themselves in thinking about the new emerging population who will have opportunities to have productive lives and careers for decades, but who need a re-education, re-orientation, re-calibration and re-introduction at a time that makes it socially permissible to allow them to accomplish that,” says Pizzo.
Like a Master's Degree for Encore Careers

You might think of the Stanford Distinguished Careers Institute as almost like getting a prestigious Master’s Degree in Encore Careers (in truth, there are no grades or degrees at this Institute, but there is a graduate-school-like tuition tab: $60,000; $25,000 for spouses and partners — the Institute hopes to offer financial aid in the future).

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The only program I’ve seen that’s remotely like it is the Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative, but the two are different in a key way I’ll explain shortly.
Pizzo, a pediatric oncologist by training, told me the germ of the idea for the Institute came to him about 40 years ago when he began his residency in Boston Children’s Hospital.
“I was acquainted with two of the greats in pediatrics, both in their 70s, who had to be escorted off stage. When I saw that, it made a huge impression on me. I felt these were individuals who were not being treated well at the end of their careers and I made a resolution to myself that I would have a plan in hand when I got to the later stage of my own career,” says Pizzo.
Years later, when Pizzo decided to hang up his Dean’s gown, he started to think more deeply about this.


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“That led to a broadening of the concept of my own journey and sowed the seeds for what we now call the Stanford Distinguished Careers Institute,” says Pizzo, whose grandkids call him “Indy,” after the adventurous Indiana Jones. “Many would have forecast I should have followed a more linear path, but it’s been revitalizing to think about things from a different perspective.”
A Rundown of the Program

The Institute, which will partner with the Stanford Center on Longevity and more than three dozen Stanford interdisciplinary centers, institutes and programs, has seven components:
Weekly discussion seminars with Stanford faculty on topics ranging from Great Ideas in Computer Science to the History of Ignorance
A weekly evening reception series, where Fellows and partners will share lessons learned from their life journeys and from participating in the Institute as well as deepen their knowledge about transforming lives. Planned sessions include topics such as The New Longevity, The Spirit of Entrepreneurship and Women and Aging.
Think Tanks of one- to two-day meetings for deeper dives into key social and intellectual issues, such as challenges in education, climate change and health care policy.
The ability to audit Stanford classes and participate in programs offered by leading companies in Silicon Valley and beyond
Intergenerational and bi-directional mentoring and leadership development
Scholarly Pathways in one of nine areas, from Arts and the Humanities to Engineering Sciences and Design
The opportunity to use transition placement services offered by Stanford and search and placement firms
One of the program’s most interesting features — and a favorite of Pizzo’s — is optional: Fellows can receive comprehensive health assessments and individualized programs to promote their physical well-being and to improve their cognitive function over time.
Pizzo, a marathon runner, says “I think that just equips you better for this next phase of life and beyond.”
Kathryn Gillam, the Institute’s Executive Director, says the program can prevent midlifers from feeling like they’re embarking on their next journey unilaterally. “It’s challenging to make this kind of transition yourself,” she says. “This has the advantage of bringing people together, so you’re not doing it alone.”
The big way this program differs from Harvard’s Advanced Leadership Initiative, which began in 2008, is that Harvard Fellows arrive with a project in mind. Stanford is more open-ended. “Ours is about personal transformation,” says Pizzo.
How to Apply

Interested in learning more about the Stanford Distinguished Careers Institute and maybe even applying? Go to its website. The submission deadline is August 1, 2014; Stanford will interview applicants and ask for references. Its team will notify by the selected Fellows by September 1.
You won’t need to take any SATS or ACTs to apply. “We ask interested individuals to go to the site, look at the scholarly concentrations, pick one out and tell us why that interests them and how it will affect what they’re going to do in the future,” says Pizzo.

Here's to the first class of jolly good Fellows at the Stanford Distinguished Careers Institute. I hope other colleges and universities come up with their own versions, too.

Photograph of Richard Eisenberg
Richard Eisenberg is the former Senior Web Editor of the Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels of Next Avenue and former Managing Editor for the site. He is the author of "How to Avoid a Mid-Life Financial Crisis" and has been a personal finance editor at Money, Yahoo, Good Housekeeping, and CBS MoneyWatch. Read More
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