Connecticut’s Graduate Institute Thinks Outside The Box With Innovative New Degree Programs

The Graduate Institute (TGI) of Bethany, Conn., was founded in 1995 by Dr. A. Harris “Bud” Stone, who believed in developing a graduate experience that deviated from the traditional process of students being fed information that they then “regurgitated” back to teachers on tests.

“He was tired of working in traditional institutions where content trumped context,” says Andrew Summa, provost/chief academic adviser, “where individuals sat in classes at desks looking at the backs of the heads of other students and taking notes, with very little discussion, or dialogue.” 

TGI was licensed in 1999, and opened for business in 2000.  Its first class graduated in 2002.

“Bud Stone's motivation for the class was really limited to the sage on the stage who was providing information, with students seen as empty vessels, recipients of transferred information,” Summa says.

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“He wanted to create instead a model that included some didactic lecture and at least 40% discussion.  So this whole model gave rise to the notion that students were considered colleagues, and that colleagues learn in a cohort learning community that usually numbers between 12 and 17, so that there would be plenty of time for discussion.”

With the exception of the MA in Conscious Evolution, classes meet once a month on the weekend. Weekend sessions comprise a Friday evening, from 5 to 9 p.m., and Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. In addition, certain programs require one week of classes in the summer.

Colleagues can enter either the MA program (baccalaureate degree required) or the certification process. 

“It's very intense,” says Summa.  “Most of our courses are 50-60% an expert talking, and 40-50%, a discussion among colleagues and cohorts that gives rise to individual learning.  We all make meaning individually of what we hear, read, and see, and by holding these discussions, as part of the weekend, ideas can not only be shared but allowed to incubate and percolate in people's minds.”

Summa explains that Dr. Stone's idea was to create a safe place, a haven for people who had mutual sensibilities.  “He saw it as a place where people who wanted to share their ideas as adult learners were not confined by the traditional trappings of higher education.”

Journals are provided for note taking, “so the process can be manifested as a reflection in the journal. There are no constraints or, in effect, prerequisites that TGI says you must have. It's all adult learners,” he adds.

But the bottom line?  “It's very transformative.  That's the mission.  To quote Oprah, a lot of ‘ah ha moments,'” he says.  “Colleagues internalize what they've learned and they have the ability to write reflectively in their journal and they share their internalization of how the learning resonated with themselves and other members of the cohort.”

How does this apply to the foodservice business?

“Given the esoteric nature of our program titles – writing and oral tradition, consciousness studies, conflict transformation, learning and thinking – these programs are not about training people, but enabling each individual to develop as a person, to help them shape and transform their world view.  Certainly, the learning and thinking piece, depending on the experiences of the person in foodservice, could be helpful, as well as finding your leadership voice, and creating meaning as individuals and as a society.  Our courses apply to any field of endeavor.  And what you learn can be applied to all aspects of your life – professional, vocational, personal, any part.”

The admissions process starts with going online to explore the programs and certificate offerings.  For more information, prospective students can call TGI and set up a meeting with a staff member, who will talk through the course offerings.  “Many of our colleagues say, 'All these MA degree programs are really interesting to me, I don't know which one to pick,'” says Summa.  “So we talk to them about each program.”

Once a program is selected, registration is easy.  Simply fill out the application online or on paper, come in for an interview with the program coordinator, who discusses what interested the learner in this particular program. “We also ask, what's their understanding of learning in a cohort, what would they contribute to a cohort community,” Summa says.

Then students are required to submit a vision statement.  “Their own description of why they're interested in this program and what they can bring to the institute community,” he says.  They must also have the official transcripts from their undergrad experience for the MA program. 

Tuition for any of six MA degree programs is $15,200 for the two-year program, offered over 24 months.  At graduation students are awarded 36 credits. Five of the six MA programs also require a one-week summer session in each of the two years.

Each MA program also has two opportunities for self-directed learning, a mentorship and/or internship, and a culminating project.  “Each colleague can select a mentor, or work as an intern, and each colleague can self-select the topic for his or her culminating project, the capstone of each of the MA programs,” he says.

“It's a way to focus on the different areas of yourself, leadership, self-knowledge, self-directed study.  And it's applicable across all industries,” says Summa.  “It's about promoting self-transformation, personal development.  The educational experience at TGI allows colleagues to establish their own learning goals, engage in self-assessment practices, identify their cognitive idiosyncrasies in their own learning processes, facilitate self-directed learning, and engenders a self view that they are autonomous, confident and capable learners who are very resilient, knowing they can accomplish whatever task lies before them.”

For more information, go to or call 203-874-4252.