Megan Frisque | Tower Fellows Program | Midlife Fulfilled Podcast
188

Ep 188 Unlocking Purpose Through Encore Education at The Tower Fellows Program

Megan Frisque shares insights into how the Tower Fellows program helps individuals in midlife find purpose through an immersive encore education experience.

In episode 188 you’ll meet Megan Frisque, the director of the Tower Fellows Program at the University of Texas at Austin. Megan shares valuable insights into how the Tower Fellows program helps individuals in midlife find purpose and fulfillment through an immersive encore education experience.

Here are three key discussion points from my conversation with Megan:

1️⃣ Intergenerational Learning and Community Engagement: The Tower Fellows program brings together individuals from diverse backgrounds, including couples and those with varying interests and experiences. Through group projects, mentorship, and engaging with traditional students, fellows have the opportunity to interact with and learn from different generations, fostering a sense of camaraderie and expanding their perspectives.

2️⃣ Personal Growth and Reflection: Megan emphasizes the importance of taking the time to reflect on one’s own path and future, as well as the value of being mentored and mentoring others. The program provides fellows with the space to explore their interests, take classes, and engage with faculty research, fostering personal growth and a sense of purpose in midlife.

3️⃣ Culminating Impact: Following a two-semester experience, the Tower Fellows program culminates in a ceremony where fellows share their experiences, and receive a certificate. Fellows have expressed how the program positively impacted their personal growth and future plans, emphasizing the significance of encore education in navigating the next steps in life and making a meaningful impact in the world.

My Main Takeaway:
Megan Frisque’s journey in higher education and the Tower Fellows program underscores the transformative power of encore education in midlife. It’s a reminder that by engaging with educational opportunities and forming strong community connections, you can discover new purpose, gain personal fulfillment, and contribute to communities in significant ways.

When you listen to episode 188, you’ll discover your unique takeaway from my conversation with Megan Frisque.

Connect with Megan Frisque on LinkedIn
Learn more about 
The Tower Fellows Program  

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My affiliate link to Castmagic, the AI tool I used to help produce these show notes.

Music attribution:
Old Bossa Twin Musicom
Suno

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Episode Transcript

Bernie Borges [00:00:00]:
Legacy, welcome to the Midlife Fulfill podcast, a maximum episode.

Megan Frisque [00:00:05]:
Thank you, Bernie. I’m very excited to be with, be here with you today.

Bernie Borges [00:00:09]:
Well, I’m excited for our conversation, so let’s get to it. Let me begin with a brief introduction. Legacy, you have more than 20 years experience in higher education. You currently serve as the director of the Tower Fellows Program, which is an encore education initiative at the University of Texas at Austin. And in this role, you lead the strategic direction and recruitment and the programmatic elements of the program. I can’t wait to hear more about that. And prior to that, you were at the, at Southwestern University, associate vice president for alumni and parent relations at Southwestern University, and you’ve held other roles in higher education. So, Megan, where I wanna begin our conversation in this maximum episode is I wanna hear your backstory.

Bernie Borges [00:00:57]:
Tell us your backstory.

Megan Frisque [00:01:00]:
Well, happy to share. It’s, been an interesting journey, I would say, working in higher education for as long as I have. It’s not a field when you are 8 years old that you think, oh, I wanna do that, when when I grow up. It took me until I was about 21. But I I was a, in high school, I was the student who was involved in everything. I was in student council. I was on the tennis team, an athletic trainer for football, class president. That was me.

Megan Frisque [00:01:30]:
I was that that kid and, I think that’s carried over here into my forties. You asked my parents that. But in college, I I did the same. I was involved across campus in different areas. My thought back then though was that I was going to be a maxiofacial surgeon.

Bernie Borges [00:01:53]:
Really?

Megan Frisque [00:01:54]:
I I know. So, very focused that so I was a student studying the sciences, and and enjoyed it, but I loved college and it and it took a mentor that I had in college to say to me, you know, you can do this for a job. Right? And I thought for a moment, I I could do this for a job, and I loved it. I I worked throughout college, for the university, you know, part time. It’s different student, student employment roles, but just found a a love and passion for for working in in education. My mom’s a teacher, and so in in the end, it didn’t fall that far fall, fall that far from the tree. Right. Right.

Megan Frisque [00:02:43]:
And and so it’s, fun to to, you know, early on to compare notes, while she was still teaching, middle school. But I’ve worked across different areas, as you mentioned, of the university. I received my master’s in what they call college student personnel. So it’s to work in higher ed focused in student development theory and, or and organizations. I but throughout my career I mean I’ve worked in admissions, I’ve worked in student life, I advised student government association, service learning trips, that traveled internationally, and and spent then a a number of my years, working in advancement and alumni and parent relations. And so

Bernie Borges [00:03:39]:
So so it sounds like you’ve had a a variety of different roles in higher ed with a few different higher ed institutions. And so now you’re at the University of Texas at Austin. You’re in you’re you head up a program which is an encore education program, the Tower Fellows program. So my next question, Megan, is kind of a 2 part question, and that is, tell us about the Tower Fellows program. What is it? But, also, what is it in the context of, like, what is encore education? Because you really can’t explain the Tower Fellows program without really explaining encore education.

Megan Frisque [00:04:15]:
Of course. So the Tower Fellows program is a program for accomplished individuals, who are looking for for what comes next in life. And I think a lot of us Midlife are thinking about that, and and education is a catalyst for transitions. I mean, I think at at any age, students are are looking to to education to to ask that question. In this case, the Tower Fellows, it’s a cohort of individuals who want to step back into the classroom. They are curious, want to learn more, to to maybe take a year of reflection and study what’s of interest to them. So the the program includes, well let me say the program’s customized for every person. So every person’s experience is going to be a bit different depending on what it is that they’re wanting to to study.

Megan Frisque [00:05:11]:
But they step back in the classroom with the students that are here at UT Austin, undergraduate, graduate level classes, and are and and that is this notion of encore education. It’s coming back as, you know, midlife adults. Our participants are anywhere from age 50 to 84 and they are are a part of the educational system here at UT. We also have our own Tower Fellows programming that takes place. We meet 3 2 to 3 times a week. We bring in the faculty to talk about their research, so cutting edge, research that’s taking place, having small group conversations and discussions about that research. We give a bit of a behind the scenes look at what is taking place at UT in regards to the museums, visiting different laboratories, you know, where, the robotics laboratory on campus, what’s happening with artificial intelligence, to going to a a theater production, here on campus or a bat or literally a backstage tour even of, of the the theater. And so it’s it’s really a a vibrant, environment to reengage in the university community.

Bernie Borges [00:06:38]:
And it’s it’s on campus. Right?

Megan Frisque [00:06:41]:
It’s on campus. It is an immersive 2 semester experience. So individuals are career relocating here to Austin for the for those 9 months, or maybe some are are from the area, but we we actually, we’ll have fellows join us each semester. So so what’s nice about it is that there’s flexibility. So someone can join us in the spring semester in 2025 and then come back for the spring semester of 2026. The 2 semesters do not have to be, consecutive.

Bernie Borges [00:07:18]:
So, you know, Megan, when I when I look at some of the analytics for the Midlife Fulfill podcast, I can’t help but observe that more than half of the listeners are in the US. You and I are Americans. We’re located in the US. But you know what? There’s a fair amount of listeners that are outside the US as far away for you and I, as far away as Australia and parts of Europe. So why don’t you talk a little bit about Austin? For those that may not be familiar with Austin, Texas, tell us a little bit about Austin.

Megan Frisque [00:07:50]:
Well, Austin is, you know, in the 10 seconds since you’ve asked that question, it’s changed again. I mean, Austin is, it is a bit, it is a quickly developing and growing city. I first moved to Austin in 2,005, and the just even the, the the the just the the skyline has changed, so dramatically in, in the last 19 years. But it’s, Austin has everything from beautiful weather, so much to do outdoors, we have a river that goes through, Colorado River goes through downtown Austin, It’s a an active business sector that is here, a very engaged community, a lot of nonprofit organizations are here in town, and we’re really fortunate the University of Texas at Austin are this is the the main campus, largest campus within the UT system, is here. And Austin’s also the the capital of the state of Texas for those who who aren’t familiar. In fact, I can look out my window and see your state capital, which is just really, really kinda special.

Bernie Borges [00:09:09]:
I’ve actually only been to Austin once, and it was not recently. The other little plug that I’ll give for Austin is that it is also the annual the site of the annual South by Southwest conference

Megan Frisque [00:09:21]:
Yeah.

Bernie Borges [00:09:21]:
Which is an amazing conference. I I watch the videos all the time. It’s a combination of music and technology, and people travel to that conference from all over the world. So, I don’t know how Austin landed that conference, but but it’s it’s that’s the venue or location, and it’s great. Let’s let’s let’s get to some storytelling. I’m really interested to hear some stories of some people that have been through the Tower Fellows program because, I know that encore education like Tower Fellows can be life changing. So you have an example or 2 you wanna share?

Megan Frisque [00:09:57]:
Sure. No. I’m happy to. I, there’s a couple of unique stories that that I’d I’d really love to share that I think show just the the range of interest that there is in people coming to to the program. Because I think what’s, what’s special about encore education is that it really is helping people, really find their purpose in this next stage of life and finding a different, maybe new or refreshed fulfillment, for themselves. And so love so we have a couple who we have several couples who’ve joined the program together.

Bernie Borges [00:10:37]:
Really? Okay.

Megan Frisque [00:10:39]:
Several. And, it’s actually really adorable because they get to be college students again. Maybe they were, maybe they met in college.

Bernie Borges [00:10:47]:
Right.

Megan Frisque [00:10:48]:
Most didn’t, and so, they they, have different interests taking different classes but you still see them with their backpacks across campus catching lunch between classes or at our events, But there’s a couple, wanted to share that they found out about the program within their hometown here in, in Texas. They’re from Corpus Christi, which is, along the along the coast and learned of someone who they knew had been in the program, did a little research that was something they were looking for of determining what comes next. One, worked in energy and one career and so coming from different lenses. When they arrived here in Austin, so they moved here for for the year, they, came in and again took classes of complete differing interests. 1, wanted to learn more about solar energy and, and in fact found a new full time job, so ended up working full time as a tower fellow, but made that connection while they were here on campus. And the other,

Bernie Borges [00:12:02]:
you

Megan Frisque [00:12:03]:
know, she she came to the to the program, with a project in mind that she had 60 years of her father’s photography and wanted to find in northwest of northwest Mexico, and her father had been a professional photographer. The the images were in a closet in her sister’s home, and she wanted to find a place, really for those to be accessible to the public and, but they needed to be curate. You know, the the curation process had to take place, and where where could she where could she donate the all these images. And so she spent the entire year studying archival process, curation, and she archived her own father’s collection and don’t and, donated it all here to the Benson Collection for Latin American Studies, here at UT. The end of her year, we had a a celebration of that donation, and it was just really a beautiful culinary experience that she came in with a project in mind, and she was able she was able to So

Bernie Borges [00:13:13]:
I would imagine that you see a lot of that spectrum. And what I mean, Megan, is, you know, one end of the spectrum might be they’re coming in really not knowing anything about what they wanna do next in their Midlife, And they’re just open minded, and they’re just there to have the experience, and whatever unfolds for them unfolds for them. And then the example of this woman you just told the story where she had a project in mind. You know? So I would imagine you see that spectrum, and that’s fascinating to me. I wanna know, what do you see in the way of interaction, engagement, relationships between the Tower Fellows cohorts and students, undergrad and and grad students as well, who are, you know, decades decades younger?

Megan Frisque [00:14:01]:
So, no, it’s a great question. So I it’s interesting because the tower fellows, they are in the classroom with the tradition you know, traditional students that are here on campus. Their focus is on the you know, reexperiencing college and less on the grades, because the Tower Fellows do not have to take, study or take tests, study for exams, I should say. They do engage in the readings and group projects, for for most of the classes if that is a component. So we will have tower fellows who, you know, they will be matched with a group of students to to complete a project, and they’ll offer a different lens, to to those projects because they have years of experience in the workforce or just in life and wisdom that they they can add to to those projects. But so we’ll see in the classroom, in answering questions that faculty may pose, that they’re that they’re again bringing that lens, but we’ll also see 1 on 1 mentorship. So we have a tower fellow that, this past semester. She’s from Houston, Texas, and she would drive in on Monday and drive home on Thursday and so be here during the week for her classes and our activities, but she really, formed a mentorship connection with a student who was a 1st year student in one of her classes, and they became friends.

Megan Frisque [00:15:36]:
The student was also from Houston. When she needed a ride home to get home at, you know, maybe spring break or for a long weekend, our tower fellow gave her gave her a ride, gave her advice on you know, she was looking to to interview for a role, and what should I wear? And and really both the student and our tower fellow added to one another’s lives, and there there’s a a lot of beauty in in that.

Bernie Borges [00:16:02]:
Yeah. I can appreciate that. I I have a a mentor mentee relationship with a gentleman who’s 28 years old. So he’s decades younger than me. And, and I enjoy mentoring him. It’s a different setting, right, from your program, but, nonetheless, it’s one of those relationships. I enjoy mentoring him, but I also enjoy hearing from him, learning from him, gaining insights from him, because he’s 28 at a different time than when I was 28, you know, so I I can appreciate that. What about, during the the academic career? Because you said there are 2 semesters, right, that the Tara Fellows okay.

Bernie Borges [00:16:41]:
During the academic year, they’re attending classes. Are there also other events that they can attend that are specialized, kinda tied to the program?

Megan Frisque [00:16:51]:
No. There are. So we have, so our so our we have our distinguished speaker career, but those are our events, and something else we call Longhorn Highlights. Those are the behind the scenes activities, but there’s so many events taking place at UT Austin on a weekly basis, that when I started in this role, I realized it it’s hard to navigate because it’s it’s such a large landscape of of what’s taking place. You know, the Linda b Johnson Presidential Library here is on campus, and they’ll have different speakers that are here. They’ll have films that are being shown, but then we’ll have, you know, at the, when the solar eclipse took place earlier this year, there were so many events taking place for the solar eclipse across campus, but there’s all different academic speakers, and and a number of fun events. But some of them to know what is really meeting the audience of the tower fellows. So when I first started, I started pulling all of that together, and I send a weekly email to our tower fellows.

Megan Frisque [00:17:56]:
Here are the 9 a curated list of 9 events that I think they’ll be interested in. And so I’ve I’ve said that, since I started in this role. What’s funny is that there are a lot of Austin residents now that want on my mailing list, who aren’t in the Towers Fellows program, and they just wanna know what’s happening on campus. And so my my list of recipients for our our nine events just keeps increase increasing. But I love it because I think that’s why some people live in a college city or college town is

Bernie Borges [00:18:26]:
Right.

Megan Frisque [00:18:27]:
To engage in those activities.

Bernie Borges [00:18:29]:
Right. Right. That’s great. What about the cohort themselves? You said it’s around 15 or 20 per cohort. Right?

Megan Frisque [00:18:37]:
Yes.

Bernie Borges [00:18:38]:
So are you seeing those folks bond with each other, hang out together, you know, just really building relationships or are they kinda, you know, doing their own thing?

Megan Frisque [00:18:51]:
No. There it’s, it becomes a real, network, I would say, of like minded individuals. And, and not just even within our cohort, we, we put a concerted effort in that past cohorts still engage with the program on a regular basis. So for within each cohort, I’ll see fellows who take classes together, that they both have a particular interest in maybe it is public policy or history or art, and so they’ll take classes together, but we but our gatherings when we get together, I began twice a week for the faculty lectures, I mean those are scholarly conversations and they are learning from one another in those environments. I love hearing from the faculty and and the research they’re presenting, but I may learn even more from some of the questions the fellows are asking to dig a little deeper, and and concepts that that are and topics that I’ve not thought about, in in the research that’s being that the research is being presented. But we’ll see fellows who, you know, afterwards, they’re getting dinner together or going to see a show here on campus that isn’t even something that I’ve shared with them that they’ve heard about, we’ll have events, that are locally in town. There’s a sculptor who was a faculty member at UT, very famous, Charles Umlauf. His he has a sculpture garden that his family had left to the city.

Megan Frisque [00:20:27]:
We had an event there and a number of alumni came back because it was a private tour, Doctor. Umloff’s home and his and his studio which looked like you know he stole materials there from the 80s 90s and so it felt like stepping stepping a bit back in time. So we have a number of social events. Our academic director she would have us out to her ranch every semester or I guess every spring, and we’d have a big outdoor dinner together. And you just really see the camaraderie, for the cohort coming together. We had at our commencement ceremony for this latest cohort, we had about half of our alumni come back for that celebration.

Bernie Borges [00:21:08]:
Really? Mhmm.

Megan Frisque [00:21:09]:
And so you get to see that there the the relationships that are formed, it’s meaningful. Yeah. Yeah. And they they want to get to know one another. They see the value in the network that’s being for, you know, that they’re that they’re joining and, and maintaining that years after the participation.

Bernie Borges [00:21:30]:
So you you call it a commencement. Is this a ceremony? It’s a ceremony?

Megan Frisque [00:21:35]:
It, it is a ceremony. I mean, it’s so each tower

Bernie Borges [00:21:39]:
It’s not like graduation. Right? It’s not that kind of ceremony.

Megan Frisque [00:21:42]:
They’re not they’re not receiving a degree.

Bernie Borges [00:21:44]:
Right. Right.

Megan Frisque [00:21:45]:
But we they do have a we we do give them a certificate, that’s for you know, that’s framed for for them to display in their home or their office. And each tower fellow who’s completing their experience presents a bit on on what they learned and what was it you know, just capturing the essence of their pro of of the program. They’ll share slides from some of, you know, their classes or projects they worked on, but it’s a it’s a very heartfelt moment for all of us, and and I love that we really get to see the range and array of classes that that people are that people are taking.

Bernie Borges [00:22:26]:
And in those those speeches, if you will, if you call them speeches, have you heard some of the, the the members of the cohort say, you know, as a result of these last two semesters in the Tower Fellows program, I’ve learned this about myself, and this is what I’m gonna go do in the next chapter of my life. I mean, have you heard those kind of speeches or stories?

Megan Frisque [00:22:48]:
Yes. I mean, it’s different it’s different for each person. I think for, for some we’ll they’ll reflect a bit but you know in a case of a part you know if it’s a couple they’ll talk about one one another and the growth that they saw in their partner for for a topic. We had a tower fellow this semester that she want she wanted to take a woodworking class. And during her experience, she created a porch bench, a a swinging porch bench that she has a physical, I guess, a physical representation of her experience, that she that she’s putting, putting in her home, but that took a lot of work and and and dedication for for her to put into it. And she said she was like, I’m proud of myself that I was able to do that. And now she has a, you know, something for her always to remember, the the experience by. But the growth the growth itself, I primarily even hear it from those around them and those who see the their their how

Bernie Borges [00:24:03]:
how You mean, like, family and loved ones?

Megan Frisque [00:24:05]:
Family, loved ones, fellow cohort members

Bernie Borges [00:24:08]:
as

Megan Frisque [00:24:08]:
well. Yeah. Yeah.

Bernie Borges [00:24:10]:
Yeah. You know, I can only imagine, Legacy. I’m I’m speculating. I haven’t been through an encore education program. I’m speculating that if I was to go through 1 and I attended classes that I did not attend in my university experience 40 some odd years ago, that I’d I’d come out of the program thinking, wow. I’ve I’ve taken some classes I wish I had maybe taken in my undergraduate days, so I’m gonna reinvent myself and and become a computer scientist or whatever, you know, whatever that that

Megan Frisque [00:24:42]:
experience is.

Bernie Borges [00:24:43]:
Like, I can kind of only imagine. As you said, it’s it’s different for everyone, but it can be so incredibly life changing. Like, they can just learn so much. Give us, you know, your kinda closing thoughts on this whole Encore Education thing. I think it’s fascinating. You know? Just you’re let’s say someone is listening to this podcast for the first time, meaning they’ve they’ve they’ve never heard of Encore Education before. Even though I’ve talked about it before, it’s been a while. Give us your closing thought on what should people be thinking about when they’re thinking about this concept of encore education.

Megan Frisque [00:25:18]:
I think, if someone has a, you know, a curiosity for life and learning, if they are trying to figure out what comes next, what they want to do next, but need support in navigating where their contributions, really can make the most impact in the world. There are wonderful programs, Tower Fellows, there are other programs that are much like tower fellows that are popping up now more so across the country. There’s only a handful to start, but I I think for people to find the right fitness for them, but there are people out there that can help in navigating. Being able to step into a classroom, maybe with, you know, those who are 18 to 25 instill some wisdom, learn from them.

Bernie Borges [00:26:06]:
I mean,

Megan Frisque [00:26:06]:
I think that’s part of the beauty and intergenerational programs. You know, that’s that to me is how we will all survive in society and the world as we take time to listen to new perspectives and learn from one another, but that takes a bit of risk and curiosity, you know, you’re putting yourself out there, So people who are eager, to to try something new, I I highly encourage it. I mean I’m, I know we’ll share my information, but I’m happy to talk with people about that. I mean the reason I ended up going into higher ed, you know, as you’re going back to it, asked about my back stories, I really wanted to to help people find their purpose and figure out what comes next. And, my my own life journey took, you know, other people mentoring me, providing me with some guidance, and and I’ve been able to do that, you know, working in admissions and student Midlife. And now here working in, with Encore Education, it’s just a different student and people asking the same questions of what of what comes next. So I think it’s a it’s valuable for everyone to take time for themselves and reflect for themselves that that question.

Bernie Borges [00:27:26]:
Yeah. Great. Very well said. Thank you. And you mentioned, your contact details. So why don’t you share your contact information as well as, of course, a link to the Tower Fellows program? And, of course, my listener knows that that will be linked up in the show notes for the episode.

Megan Frisque [00:27:42]:
Yes. Thank you. So the Tower Fellows program, our website is towerfellows.utexas.edu. If they just go to their web browser and type in Tower Fellows, I’m sure we will pop up.

Bernie Borges [00:27:55]:
Yeah.

Megan Frisque [00:27:56]:
My email address is on our Tower Fellows webpage, but my LinkedIn, I LinkedIn is probably my favorite social media platform anymore. That’s how Bernie and I first met.

Bernie Borges [00:28:07]:
Yep.

Megan Frisque [00:28:08]:
Was through was through LinkedIn, but my my handle on LinkedIn is just, Legacy Frisk as my name’s written.

Bernie Borges [00:28:16]:
Yep. Fantastic. Well, again, my listener knows that that will be, linked up in the show notes for this episode. And, you know, Megan, this is the Midlife Fulfilled podcast, so we, of course, like to talk about, how people can thrive and and seek and find fulfillment in their midlife seasons. And I think encore education is certainly one of those ways, of what you’re doing at the Tower Fellows program at the University of Texas at Austin, which is an an awesome location. So I just wanna thank you for taking time to to share your story, your backstory, and and the Tower Fellows program, and, just give us that insight, around just, the fulfillment opportunities that are available for people who explore that. Thank you so much.

Megan Frisque [00:29:01]:
Well, thank you, Bernie, for having me. It’s, a a real joy, and and, I appreciate you, you know, being a part of this this conversation for for midlife individuals.

Bernie Borges [00:29:13]:
Thank you, Megan.

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