Internships and growth – one student’s story

July 7, 2015 at 10:06 PM

Internships and growth – one student’s story

Rachel Eager UA’18 and Jim Stellar

This is Rachel’s story. We work together this summer in a small group doing literature research into how experiential education activities can promote the development of women and minorities in higher education. We blend a bit of psychology and neuroscience with research into higher education programs and plan to come back to that topic in future posts. But for now, this is Rachel’s story having just completed her freshman year at the University at Albany.

Experiential education can be discussed as an experience outside the classroom that shapes your education or even a class that is taught in a way that presents a real world feel such as seen in the blog, Bringing experiential education techniques to the “flipped” Classroom, undergraduate-professor partnerships, and student engagement. But what it has in common is the ability to change a student’s mind in a way that promotes learning and real-world application. In addition to changing the mind in a way that promotes confidence and sociability, an experiential education will hopefully create an in-group where one feels they belong to and have something in common with. I soon learned the benefits that experiential education can have on my life.

When I got accepted to college my goal, just like many others, was to become a marketable candidate for a job. I worked hard in my classes of course and continue to do so, but a class can only teach you so much information. Most classes lack the social and literal aspects of an office life that would give me the ability to communicate in a professional matter to whomever I want to or need to talk to. However this was not something I knew I needed to gain until I acquired my internship. In fact, I was simply just looking to build my resume to have a better application for medical school. I was looking for a research position and JS was one of the many people I happen to contact along the way of achieving my goal of doing so. Soon I began to contact the three directors at the Global Institute of Health and Human Rights (GIHHR) looking for an internship position with the institute. I finally joined the team in April and began working on projects with other interns. However, I was surprised to find that I seemed to be learning more about real life application of knowledge at the internship than I ever could in a classroom. As I gained such knowledge, I also gained an intelligence that is hard to teach. I gained both in confidence in my own work and in my actions, I learned to speak to others in a professional manner and with conviction and I learned what it is like to work with others towards a long-term common goal. I have created a personal connection with my directors and a maturity I did not exude before. But most importantly, I now have a comfortable environment on campus that is very familiar to me. The GIHHR has provided me with a place that I want to be and a new group of people that are there for me. These are qualities that one cannot gain from a class that lasts a single semester. GIHHR gives me a place I can willingly dedicate my time for all four years of my education. But my experience is not an exception, many students at the University at Albany and beyond have experienced a similar dedication to their experiential education.

A study conducted by Sarah Maben and Kathleen Whitson illustrates the outcome that a student-run public relations firm can have on the students. Experience with such a firm not only taught the students what a real life client basis could be like, it helped them to explore the world of public relations. This helped them very much with their professional skills and personal experience. Even further they were more likely to obtain a job after because of the experience they had gotten at the firm. Although many said they would not work in a public relations firm in the future, the opportunity helped to shape the student’s education very much like mine has. The survey stated that there was an increase in the confidence and maturation of the students working at the firm. Students working here were also given the unique chance to work closely with faculty advisers, in a way that allowed them to view the students in a new light. One faculty member stated that they were more likely to give a good recommendation to a student who was a dedicated member at the firm even if they did not score well in their class. Overall the positive outcome of the experiential public-relations firm very much mirrors my experience at GIHHR. But experiential education can go beyond internships, and can start with just joining a club or getting involved on a college campus. There are many clubs and activities on the University at Albany campus that can allow someone to gain the same type of experience that I have.

Out of these two cases, it shows that being a part of experiential education outside of the classroom allows for one to make a connection that one cannot with just standardized learning. It is not a coincidence that each of the students surveyed within these studies, changed dramatically from their experiences. Some skills cannot be taught in a classroom and must be learn on one’s own. Since this is the case, having an internship such as my own or being active in a public relations firm can change the way one feels about themselves and the opportunities they have been given at their own university.

This may be Rachel’s story but it is also the story of many students who embrace experiential education in internships, undergraduate research or its other forms, e.g. study abroad, service-learning, entrepreneurship, etc. The key in these experiences is that the student is given real responsibility in an authentic situation to do as well as to learn. The classroom may be efficient at transmitting facts and theory knowledge to the rational brain, but it does not impact the part of the brain that provides a felt-knowledge complement to conscious learning. Experience does that and enhances student growth. This is Rachel’s story of her freshman year and maybe it is also the emerging story of a new higher education that can even better engage students and better prepare them for success after a college education.

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