This year, Dr. Iris Mack realized her proudest moments when Associated Technologists, Inc. (ATI) earned Small Business Administration Certification within three weeks and was chosen for NASA’s quarterly hightech business forum.
Not bad for an African-American entrepreneur seeking a niche in the emerging, ever-competitive high-tech marketplace. As president of ATI, a company she formed with several of her closest friends, Mack foresees a future for her company that garners new government contracts and helps corporate clients usher in new technological advancements.
While the Atlanta-based ATI’s achievements are impressive, they’re especially amazing considering it’s an avocation — a part-time venture — for Mack, an associate professor with the mathematical sciences department of Clark Atlanta University. She launched her consulting career while teaching at MIT.
Teaching Comes First
“Moonlighting. Wow! I haven’t heard that term in a while. That’s really old and almost inappropriate. I don’t consider what I’m doing to be moonlighting. ATI is another of my ventures and I’m excited about it. I may have to take a leave from teaching to devote my energies to building ATI. My teaching career is my first endeavor. I do enjoy teaching so I will always be affiliated with some academic institution,” says Mack.
On university campuses, in corporate board rooms, engineering sites and anywhere there is a need for a highly skilled professional mind, college instructors solve complex business problems, help government leaders and lend a helping hand to redeveloping communities. While it is not uncommon for law department, dental and medical educators to have private practices, those in other areas are venturing into almost every realm of business and industry as consultants, practitioners and developers. Business ownership is a popular sideline, but it is not the only type of supplemental employment educators undertake.
Astute, enterprising and determined, many are reluctant to call it moonlighting. However, they represent the new wave of educational experts who are parlaying their knowledge for increased income, recognition and career advancement. Experts suggest many of these educators are slightly younger, better educated and most of all energetic. While most are men, women are making inroads in areas once shut out to them.
“I was almost forced to start my company,” recalls Mack. “I had gotten a bit fed up with academia. Therefore, I thought I’d look for positions in corporate America and Wall Street again. Turns out that many of the individuals interviewing me were intimidated by a young Black woman who had more credentials than they had. I realized that my best option at the time was to start my own company. Another motivating factor is to one day have financial freedom.”
College educators moonlight for many reasons, explains William Kent, an adjunct creative instructor at the University of Pennsylvania. “I don’t know of any personally, but I have heard of freeway professors, those who teach at one college then hop into their cars to teach at another.” Many of these do so because they are either at the lower rungs of the tenure track or do not have a full-time appointment.
Whatever their level, teachers often believe they have talents they’d like to share with others, reports the U.S. Department of Education. One in six of the nation’s 2.4-million full-time educators hold another job during the school year.
As in the past, a major motivating factor is income. Although university teaching salaries are better, moonlighting is an excellent means of boosting income. An academic study by Dr. L. Carolyn Pearson, Carroll DeFos and Bruce W. Hall reveals that boredom with teaching is not a factor. Many moonlight to boost their living conditions.
The latest American Association of University Professors salary survey reveals that full-time faculty experienced salary hikes for the third consecutive year. Salaries rose 4 percent for faculty members who started their careers before 1994. The average increase for all faculty climbed 2.9 percent, slightly outpacing inflation, reports the Washington-based trade group. The increase pushes current school year averages to $57,760 for doctorate-level institutions, $47,830 for comprehensive institutions, $42,500 for baccalaureate institutions and $41,640 for two-year colleges. Some professors, however, earn more than $100,000.
Despite the increases, college teaching salaries still pale when compared to those in private industry, especially those in the science, engineering and technical fields.
Professors in Demand
Professors with technical knowledge find they often are appreciated outside the classroom. They often are the targets of executive recruiters who want to lure them away to permanent jobs in industry. And when recruiters can’t convince them to leave academia altogether, they match them with companies seeking short-term solutions.
Some become corporate trainers, helping new employees learn computer applications. Others work for trade associations and business groups tracking business trends, conducting seminars and heading comprehensive research projects.
“A lot of faculty consult. I consult for the research advisory board of a noise reduction company. It pays very well, better than teaching. They’re willing to pay for a certain amount of expertise,” explains Dr. Janet C. Rutledge, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at Northwestern University. She earned $1,600 an hour for a recent consulting assignment. “Many people consult because it is compatible to what they are doing. It keeps me in touch with what the real world is doing. If you spend all your time in the academic lab, you can lose touch with the real world.”
On leave from Northwestern to serve as program director for the National Science Foundation, Rutledge is also a part-time entrepreneur. She formed a company several years ago to develop digitalized hearing devices. Supplemental employment can be easier for some educators to undertake than others.
Tenured faculty at research universities, where their course load may be lighter than those at smaller colleges, are better able to squeeze in a few projects between their usual duties. At some universities, distinguished faculty members may only teach one class a semester, or one course a year.
“Being an academic, as opposed to being a businesswoman, is very different,” says Mack. “Being both is very exciting and sometimes a bit hectic. I feel my business experiences make me a better teacher. I not only teach my students theory, but show them applications of the theory they’re learning. On the other hand, my academic research skills make me a better businesswoman.”
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