04/04/2014 04:25 pm ET Updated Apr 04, 2014

Stanford Opens School For Retirees Who Don't Think A Career Ends At 50


In the heart of Silicon Valley, Stanford University is changing the conversation about career trajectories and opening a new school specifically for older scholars who don’t feel like their best years are behind them.

Stanford is currently accepting applications for its new Distinguished Careers Institute (DCI), a yearlong program for accomplished career veterans with 20-30 years of experience who are seeking out a second success story. The 20 fellows selected will begin their studies in January.

The institute, which is anchored in the Stanford Center on Longevity, is the school’s answer to people living longer lives and hoping to apply their skills in reimagined ways as new opportunities and needs emerge.

"Life should be filled with new journeys and new opportunities, and shouldn't be affixed to traditional stopping points that are no longer relevant," Philip Pizzo, who helped found the program, said in a release from the university. "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."

The program will include think tanks exploring a range of topics, including business and entrepreneurship,
engineering sciences and design, social sciences and international studies; an intergenerational program allowing fellows to partner with undergraduates in research and service projects; life journey and transition counseling; faculty mentors and the opportunity to audit selected courses at the university. For an additional fee, fellows’ spouses and life partners will be allowed to participate in some of the offerings.

Given that 75 percent of 50 to 70-year-olds surveyed by Princeton Survey Research Associates in 2005 said they didn't feel retirement was the end of their “productive years,” Stanford is smart to capitalize on a largely untapped age group eager to give back.

"When you're young, you're trying to figure out what you want to do. Then you become focused on a specific set of questions and problems. It is just not possible to explore," Los Angeles investment banker Skip Victor told the San Jose Mercury News. He participated in Harvard's Advanced Leadership Initiative, a similar program launched in 2008 that Pizzo says helped guide DCI’s development.

"There is great freedom in being a beginner again," said Victor, who used Harvard’s program to organize educational missions to Israel.

Despite Mark Zuckerberg’s assertions that “young people are just smarter,” history is full of post-40 bloomers -- Albert Einstein, Colonel Sanders of KFC, Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn to name a few --that make a case for programs like Stanford’s.

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



What Would You Say To Your 20-Year-Old Self?