Some things have never changed for Marjorie Dorr.
Like being a mother. Her youngest son is 23 years old and has started a business selling nutritional mushroom products. Because Dorr has had years of management experience as a corporate executive, he asked her to help him grow his business. She was beyond honored and has plunged right in.
The UT Tower Fellows Program is looking for people like you who want to keep learning, growing, and challenging themselves. To find out how to apply for the 2020-2021 school year, click here.
Another thing that is on-going for Dorr: Her great thirst for learning and challenging herself.
Both of these constants have pushed Dorr, 57, to take on one of the biggest adventures of her life. She is back in school, learning today’s entrepreneurial business principles that will inform her work with her son. “SEO [search engine optimization] didn’t exist 30 plus years ago,” she exclaims, referring to her MBA program.
But she’s not just going back to school. She’s not dropping into classes here and there, a middle-aged interloper on a campus full of kids. Dorr, pictured above, is in a program, for men and women, at the University of Texas in Austin that fully embraces her stage in life, her desire for support and connection as she learns, so that she can fully embrace the opportunity of a lifetime: a backstage pass to a major university.
The Tower Fellows Program
She is a Tower Fellow for the 2019-2020 academic year, and that means she and the 11 other fellows in the program are able to pick from 12,000 courses, both undergraduate and graduate, in a wide range of subjects, learn from the university’s top professors at weekly seminars, attend receptions with industry leaders, receive individualized assistance as they plan a curriculum and make their way in a higher education system that has changed drastically since the last time they sat in a lecture hall.
“It’s a challenge navigating this phase of life. We have so much to offer, it’s a matter of figuring out where we can contribute most,” says Dorr, who moved to Austin from New Hampshire, something she and her husband were planning even before she found the Tower Fellows program. “In the quest to be helpful to my son, I’m dusting off old skills and learning new ones. It’s so invigorating to put yourself out there boldly.”
The Towers Fellows program was established in 2018, with the goal of providing accomplished individuals (ideally with 20 to 30 years of work experience) the chance to discover, reflect, and prepare for their life ahead.
“Tower Fellows have chosen to take time for themselves and discover what might be next.” said Sally Brinker, program director. “Tower Fellows provides the vehicle for that exploration.”
The program consists of two semesters of study, and fellows do not have to follow any specific degree plan or even any particular logic but their own. For instance, this semester Dorr is taking classes in finance for entrepreneurs, website analytics, nutritional entrepreneurship (since her son’s business fits this category) plus an art history course. Many fellows indulge in courses they have always wanted to take, but missed on earlier spins through college.
What to Do After Retirement: Stretch Yourself
For many fellows, the experience is life changing. “The program stretched me,” says Ellen Temple, 77, the publisher of two important books on women’s suffrage in Texas, who took part in the program’s first year, 2018-19. “I could feel my mind becoming more nimble, more open. I was looking at things differently.”
As a life-long conservationist, Temple signed up to audit a graduate level class called Anthropology: Nature, Culture and Power. To be allowed in the class, she had to get approval from the professor. With only 11 other students, the class was very intimate. “There was no way to hide in the back row.” But she says she wasn’t intimidated. “I listened instead of worrying about what I was going to say or how I was going to sound. I knew these young people had something to teach me.”
She says she developed a whole new way of thinking about conservation—not centered on man and nature as separate dichotomies, but as an integrated whole. And she was able to teach younger students as well. Through the Tower program, she was able to share her giving philosophy and experience as a guest lecturer in a philanthropy class.
One bonus of the program is the camaraderie that develops among the fellows, who are roughly in the same life stage and thus are able to offer encouragement to each other. Temple’s peers pushed her to pursue a different path in her second semester. She had long dreamed of making a film, and enabled by the Tower Fellows program’s exclusive access to faculty and resources, she was paired with an acclaimed filmmaker at the university in an independent study to make her own documentary about women’s suffrage in Texas. The documentary, which is in post-production, will enable her to get the word out about the heroes of the movement that were covered in the books in a powerful way.
Into the Future
Though Dorr is auditing her classes, as fellows are free to do, she is diligent about doing the readings so she can participate in discussions and writing all the required papers. She doesn’t, however, take the exams. “I do all the project work,” she says. “Experiential learning is most valuable to me.”
Right now, she is learning how to put together a pitch deck—a digital presentation that encapsulates a company’s value and mission, meant to show to potential investors. She imagines this will be useful if her son’s company needs to go for venture capital funding at some point. “I see where I’ll be most valuable to him,” she says, “is making introductions and connecting him and anticipating where obstacles might be. I’m getting more clarity on where the opportunities and obstacles are.” She is filled with awe and tremendous gratitude for this chance to work with her son—to see him operating and succeeding in the world as a grown man, not as the child he once was.
But all her success in the world before she entered the Tower Fellows program, all that she’s learning in this new phase of her life, haven’t completely wiped out some natural mother-like trepidation. “I just hope I don’t screw up his business,” she says. Somehow that doesn’t seem possible.