Published August 28, 2014
Mini-trips to exotic lands. Mentor connections with renowned professors and accomplished alumni. Community-based service that blends real-world experience with life-changing impact.
That’s the real picture behind UB’s expanding focus on “experiential learning,” a general term for hands-on, engaging experiences that allow students to apply learning toward a deeper and more sophisticated understanding of core concepts and theories.
And for UB students, these experiences are not only available, they’re highly encouraged.
“It’s an exciting time to be a student at UB, largely because the university has expanded its commitment to experiential learning opportunities for its students,” says Mara Huber, associate dean for undergraduate research and experiential learning.
“Across the university we’re seeing the development of amazing opportunities for students to explore different cultures and make connections with faculty, alumni and fellow students while contemplating their impact within the larger world. And with recent investments in experiential learning, including an expanding winter session, we’re seeing a rich menu of academic options with the promise of many more to come.”
The benefits of experiential learning are well-documented and Huber is just one of many UB administrators and faculty members championing its value. Besides providing students with opportunities to explore career paths and graduate fields, students are able to apply their theoretical knowledge within real-world contexts and communities, Huber says.
“They see the interconnectedness of challenges and needed solutions while practicing communication and problem-solving skills through high-impact pedagogies,” she says. “And perhaps most importantly, they learn about themselves and others, gaining stories and memories to last a lifetime.”
Huber should know. She just returned from a nine-day experiential learning trip with 18 middle-graders from Nardin Academy and City Honors. The trip focused on the Southwest region of the U.S., exploring the Navajo Nation, Canyon de Chelly and the San Juan River. Besides learning about ecology and cultural anthropology, the students reflected on the importance of global citizenship and the impact that we have on the world.
“By providing students with high-impact experiences, we can expand their base of reference, allowing them to build discovery and integration as they go,” she says.
In her work within the Office of Undergraduate Education, Huber is excited about bringing these types of learning opportunities to UB’s domestic and international students. She suggests that viewing UB through the lens of experiential learning offers a world of opportunities.
“Every faculty member with his or her respective interests, experiences and connections in different parts of the world has something to offer,” she says. “By inviting students in to share these personal experiences, we can create uniquely rich opportunities for learning that can be literally life-changing.”
Countless others in the university also believe in the value of experiential learning.
“High-impact experiential learning often results in students gaining real-life experience in their field, connecting with other professionals working in their field of study as well as informing the student’s career goals,” says Arlene Kaukus, director of Career Services.
“It is the combination of this out-of-classroom learning, along with the student’s academic studies, that positions them for greater success upon graduation.”
Huber notes that as UB students look to explore different geographies, cultures and communities, the breath and diversity of offerings will continue to grow. This includes courses within degree programs and academic units, as well as more centralized offerings and experiences that are open to all students, regardless of major or course of study.
“When we pull all of the diverse opportunities and resources together under the lens of experiential learning, UB emerges as a truly unique and exciting destination,” says Huber. “When students connect their individual passions and interests with the right opportunities, that’s when the magic happens.
“And the best part is we’re just getting started.”