Experiential Learning: Students and Community Benefit

WKU is nationally recognized for the quality of instruction it provides students for the impressive reputation for community engagement and service learning. In recent years, “experiential learning” has become a popular topic in higher education. Simply put, “experiential learning” is the expression of “learning from doing”. Experiential learning can take on a number of experiences including internships, practica, clinical or fieldwork experiences, undergraduate research, service learning, study abroad, “hands-on” work experiences and other related activities (Silberman, 2007).

Research indicates that experiential learning enhances positive outcomes, including enhanced student learning, on-time graduation, and seamless transition into the workforce. Hands-on application of knowledge can help to build a student’s skills and networks, as well as offer valuable professional experience. Reflection on that experience assists students in articulating their goals and aspirations, to themselves and to their future employers.

Here in the CHHS, we have long been conducting experiential learning. However, we are poised to take the learning experience that students receive in CHHS to an even higher level that not only enhances learning, but also positions them for success after graduation. Experiential learning creates new opportunities for businesses, non-profits, and other organizations that partner with CHHS on mutually beneficial study abroad, service-learning, and internship opportunities. Students make valuable connections and receive valuable experience that serves them well beyond graduation. Additionally, organizations and businesses gain a new perspective and receive assistance with special projects.

This summer, students from our programs will be headed to places abroad including Sweden, Costa Rica, and Iceland, to experience hands-on learning in a variety of ways. While we have so many examples of experiential learning that could be highlighted, I wanted to underscore two impeccable experiential learning opportunities for our students.

School of Kinesiology, Recreation and Sport in Indy

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Group picture at the Indianapolis Colts’ training facility.

Three of our dedicated CHHS faculty (Drs. Brad Stinnett, Evie Oregon, and Fred Gibson) from the School of KRS offered a 5-day Sport Facility Symposium in Indianapolis. As a part of our ongoing Study Away Initiative, 16 of our students experienced an opportunity to gain more information about the world of sport and recreation from those currently working in the field.  Indianapolis has the great distinction of being referred to as the amateur “sports capital of the world” and the “racing capital of the world.”  During those 5 days, the CHHS students received an unparalleled behind-the-scenes look at facility planning, design, and construction processes in professional, intercollegiate, and interscholastic recreation and sport facilities. Throughout their time in Indianapolis, the students, faculty and staff toured the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Banker’s Life Fieldhouse (home to the Indianapolis Pacers), Lbankerslifeucas Oil Stadium (home to the Indianapolis Colts and NCAA Final Four Men’s Tournament), NCAA Headquarters and Hall of Champions, Victory Field (home to AAA Pro baseball team), and more. These students were given the opportunity to gain hands on insight into their chosen career paths during this valuable experience in Indianapolis.

 

Institute for Rural Health, School of Nursing, Department of Public Health at Smucker’s

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Matt Hunt, Director of IRH, and I discuss collaborations and ways in which to improve rural healthcare in the area.

I recently had the great fortune to travel to the J.M. Smucker Corporation plant in Scottsville and see firsthand the types of novel, “hands-on”, life-changing experiences that our students were able to experience. This Smucker’s plant produces Uncrustables©, the thaw and serve peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I met with a number of exceptionally promising students from the CHHS School of Nursing, the Department of Public Health, staff in the Institute of Rural Health (IRH), as well as Smucker’s employees. The IRH in CHHS identifies rural health and human service needs and facilitates collaborative arrangements that engages WKU students and faculty and community agencies in addressing these needs.

This academic year, The IRH, and students from CHHS, provided more than 600 services at the J.M. Smucker Corporation in Scottsville as part of the IRH’s worksite wellness outreach. IRH staff, along with 28 baccalaureate nursing students, provided health screenings for Smucker’s employees including: blood pressure, lipid panel, blood glucose, hemoglobin A1C, bone density, and BMI.  Collaboratively, baccalaureate and graduate public health students developed and provided educational presentations for the workforce on topics including: oral health, breast cancer awareness, prostate cancer awareness, ergonomics, physical activity, healthy eating, and stress management. The students served more than 150 Smucker’s employees, resulting in over 160 student engagement hours at the Scottsville facility. The IRH plays an important role of maintaining excellence at the intersection of student engagement and community service, while providing excellent experiential learning events for students.

The experiential learning opportunities described above are just some of the examples of how our students are working in applied health and human service venues to gain valuable work experience. We look forward to continuing these partnerships and watching them grow in the days, months, and years ahead.

Silberman, M. L. (2007). The handbook of experiential learning. San Francisco: Pfeiffer.

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