Stanford Distinguished Careers Institute to offer transformative experience

The new institute will give participants the opportunity to reflect on their life journeys, explore new pathways and redirect their lives for the common good.

L.A. Cicero Philip Pizzo

Philip Pizzo, former dean of the Stanford School of Medicine, will lead the new Stanford Distinguished Careers Institute.

In an era in which people are living and working longer, universities may have a new role to play in society by offering programs designed to revitalize, reengage and reconnect people who are midway through their life journeys and are ready to explore new pathways.

"We know what role universities play in early life and in stimulating the first phase of careers," said Philip Pizzo, who returned to teaching in 2012 after serving as dean of Stanford School of Medicine for 12 years. "What is their role in mid- to later-career life transitions and journeys?"

To help answer that question, Pizzo founded the Stanford Distinguished Careers Institute (DCI), an innovative program offering highly accomplished leaders the opportunity to create new, enriching professional and personal experiences for the next stage of their lives as citizens of their local, national and international communities.

The institute will give 20 participants access to Stanford's innovative, entrepreneurial and interdisciplinary learning environment, including faculty scholars, classes and courses in all seven schools, and programs in dozens of campus institutes and centers.

Typical fellows would have a 20- to 30-year career of achievements and contributions in the public and private sectors. They would be leaders who are eager to join their peers for a program of personal renewal, intellectual exploration, physical recalibration and societal engagement. The institute will welcome its inaugural class in January 2015.

A new way forward

"Life should be filled with new journeys and new opportunities, and shouldn't be affixed to traditional stopping points that are no longer relevant," said Pizzo, who is the David and Susan Heckerman Professor, and a professor of pediatrics and of microbiology and immunology at Stanford. "We need to recalibrate the way we think about the life journey, and recognize that individuals have different things to offer and to gain at different stages in life."

Stanford President John Hennessy said rapid changes in information technology compel us to think in new ways about how universities teach and create knowledge.

"Along with these major shifts, dramatic and continuing increases in longevity raise important questions about how to harness the wisdom of experienced individuals who are ready for new challenges and opportunities to contribute to their communities," he said.

"The Stanford Distinguished Careers Institute provides an innovative nexus that will connect established leaders with the extraordinary depth and breadth of Stanford’s rich interdisciplinary environment and its extraordinary students and faculty. The institute will foster bidirectional opportunities for intergenerational teaching and learning, helping to create new models for the role of universities in lifetime learning."

Pizzo said the institute will serve as a transition to new ventures for participants, allowing them to build on their life experiences to create something unique that will improve themselves and the world.

"The new way forward that emerges from participating in the institute can be one long-anticipated and hoped-for, or one not yet imagined," he said.

The institute is a partnership with the Stanford Center on Longevity, whose mission is to redesign long life.

"A growing body of research suggests that health and satisfaction in the second half of life are critically tied to education and engagement, yet the current social norms that guide us through life limit education largely to youth," said Laura Carstensen, the center's director.

"In this era of very long life, there is an urgent need for new visions of work and education. The Distinguished Careers Institute instantiates an innovative model and points to exciting new roles for universities in the 21st century."

A program of transformation

Under the program, participants, who will be DCI Fellows, will be able to audit Stanford classes and courses offered throughout campus. Each fellow will have a faculty adviser. With the help of those advisers, fellows will create "scholarly pathways" designed to help them achieve their goals during the yearlong program.

More than three dozen Stanford interdisciplinary centers, institutes and programs have enthusiastically agreed to engage with DCI Fellows, including the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research, the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, the Center for Law and the Biosciences, the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and many programs at Stanford Medical School. Fellows may join the programs as observers or participants, with the approval of faculty members.

The DCI Fellows will participate in a core program that includes weekly discussion seminars with faculty on a broad range of topics, and weekly receptions in which fellows share lessons they have learned and consider issues of life transitions from a variety of disciplinary perspectives.

The program will include think tanks – one- to two-day meetings – on key social and intellectual issues. Potential topics for 2015 include: The Human Brain and Behavior Across the Life Journey; The Transition to Sustainability; The Societal and Ethical Impacts of Newly Emerging Technologies; and The Widening Economic Gap in the United States.

Monthly dinner soirées will be held with faculty scholars, as well as leaders from the broader Stanford and Silicon Valley communities.

The program will emphasize community building by offering dedicated office space on campus that facilitates networking among fellows with each other and with Stanford faculty, students and staff. The program also will encourage interactions with undergraduate and graduate students in research, academic and service projects that foster intergenerational learning.

To promote future longevity and success, each fellow will have the opportunity for a health assessment, including a health, exercise and personal well-being plan.

Spouses and partners of fellows also will be welcome to participate. Applications for the inaugural class of fellows are available on the institute's website and are now being accepted.

Pizzo said insights from a seminal program, the Advanced Leadership Initiative (ALI), which began at Harvard University in 2008, contributed to the design of Stanford's program. He said programs like the ALI and the DCI offer a new way for universities to engage individuals throughout their lives and to create a future that promotes healthy, productive and values-based lives and communities, locally and globally.

Mira Engel, Distinguished Careers Institute: (650) 725-2895),

Kristin Goldthorpe, Distinguished Careers Institute: (650) 497-5403),