Advertising and public relations executives, bankers, investment officers, corporate leaders, attorneys and entrepreneurs are among the third group of leaders accepted into Stanford’s Distinguished Careers Institute (DCI).

Phil Pizzo and Kathryn Gillam

Stanford’s Distinguished Careers Institute was founded by Phil Pizzo, former Stanford Medical School dean, and is led by Executive Director Kathryn Gillam. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

The institute, created and headed by former Medical School dean Phil Pizzo, helps people with 20 to 30 years of work experience reinvent their careers and lives toward roles with social impact.

This year’s group includes 13 men and 12 women. Nine are from California, but fellows also hail from Massachusetts, Washington, Colorado, New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Florida, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Founded in 2014, DCI annually accepts about 25 fellows and their partners for the yearlong program. DCI fellows, who begin in January, enroll in Stanford courses and participate in a core program that includes specially designed colloquia, seminars and mentorship by Stanford faculty members.

The admission of the third group of fellows comes at a key moment for the institute, which is shifting from start-up mode to extend its reach. During its next phase, which will be overseen by Executive Director Kathryn Gillam, DCI will encourage colleges and universities worldwide to consider how they might use the lessons learned at Stanford to change the way society thinks about age and aging.

Rethinking age and aging

Pizzo believes now is the time for higher education to recognize the potential of serving aging adults who can remain productive long after they retire from their primary careers. By 2030, Pizzo noted, about 20 percent of the U.S. population will be older than 65. But the narrative that still influences employment practices has failed to keep up with changing demographics.

“That narrative is more than 100 years old,” he said. “We need to reshape the way we think about work and retirement, given that an additional 30 years has been added to our lives.”

Increases in longevity, combined with a declining birthrate, mean aging adults will be integral to the workforce and U.S. economy in ways unimagined in the past.

“What do you do,” Pizzo asked, “when retirement is measured in 30 or 40 years?”

DCI – which Pizzo considers still experimental – was designed with those changing demographics in mind.

The program allows fellows to define their purpose, to create a community of colleagues and a network of contacts and to recalibrate their approach to wellness. They begin the program by choosing among eight pathways that feature opportunities for courses, research and experiential learning. Those pathways include arts and humanities; business, leadership and entrepreneurship; education, teaching and learning; energy and the environment; engineering sciences and design; health and health care; international studies and programs; and social sciences, policy and public service.

Phase two

Pizzo and Gillam hope the current fellows will be inspired by a lecture by Penny Pritzker on Oct. 25 during the first Life Journey Inspiration Celebration sponsored by DCI. Pritzker, the United States secretary of commerce, will inaugurate an annual lecture that will focus on re-inventing the life journey.

As they move into the next phase of the program, Pizzo and Gillam are not necessarily looking to expand DCI. Instead, they are interested to see if other colleges and universities can adapt all or part of the DCI model to fit their own target population’s needs. They are convinced that the three fundamental tenets of DCI – purpose, community and wellness – are adaptable anywhere.

Phase two also offers the possibility for colleges and universities to reconsider their own missions in light of changing demographics and society’s upcoming need for lifelong learning.

“To meet the needs of a dramatically transformed 21st century society, I believe it’s time for institutions of higher education of all stripes to step up,” Pizzo wrote in a recent essay for Next Avenue. “By developing programs for midlife renewal, they can serve the needs of individuals and their communities, as well as our nation and world.”

Pizzo and Gillam hope to collect data on Stanford fellows – and to collaborate with other similar programs – to perform longitudinal studies reflecting the successes and challenges of the programs. For instance, do programs like DCI reduce fellows’ future needs for medical or social services?

“Ultimately, we hope to answer the questions: How do we get beyond ageism and how can we improve the life journey by attenuating or delaying chronic decline and improving opportunities for intergenerational learning and teaching?” Pizzo said.