Feature Stories

Creating connections

History comes to life for students in a new UGA program that immerses them in the nation's capital, where access to historical sites, documents and artifacts is coupled with hands-on experience gained through internships at leading agencies and organizations in Washington, D.C.

"It offers them a different perspective and opens up possible career choices," says Akela Reason, UGA associate professor of history. "This gives them an opportunity to think about history as a real, living thing."

The public history program, developed by Reason, is one of many new experiential learning opportunities the university provides to students. It is a two-part experiential learning opportunity that began during Maymester and will continue through July. The class is being held in the many museums along the National Mall, as well as George Washington's home at Mount Vernon and the Civil War battlefield at Gettysburg, Pa. During the summer, the students intern at organizations including the Library of Congress, the National Archives and the Archives of American Art. The program is an example of the hands-on opportunities that will be required for undergraduates as part of UGA's new experiential learning initiative.

Of course, students also can gain new perspectives on campus and in the surrounding community. Erin Hollander, a junior Honors student and Foundation Fellow, has conducted research through the university's Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities (CURO) and is a recipient of the CURO Research Assistantship, which offers students a $1,000 stipend and recently expanded to support 500 students annually.

Hollander most recently worked in the lab of Distinguished Research Professor Michael Terns on a bacterium that is important to the dairy industry, and she is currently applying to M.D./Ph.D. programs. In April, she was one of 60 presenters selected out of hundreds of applicants from institutions across the nation to present her research at the nation's capital during the 20th annual Posters on the Hill event.

The College of Education's Professional Development School District partnership with the Clarke County School District puts its students in public school classrooms on a daily basis, with 23 UGA classes meeting at local schools this semester, says Janna Dresden (PhD '93), a clinical associate professor and director of the college's Office of School Engagement.

"Instead of meeting at Aderhold Hall once or twice a week, those students go to an elementary school, a middle school or a high school," she says. "We have about 500 students at the schools, either taking courses, volunteering or doing early field experience or student teaching."

Students have long engaged in this kind of experiential (or hands-on) learning at UGA, but the university's requirement is new. Beginning this fall, all incoming first-year and transfer students will be required to engage in experiential learning before graduation. The initiative is designed to take UGA students out of classrooms for real-world experience in a variety of ways, including internships, service-learning projects and study abroad programs.

While history majors have a wealth of opportunities in places like Washington, D.C., and local school systems are a natural fit for education majors, the experiential learning choices for some students are not as clear.

 "If you're in philosophy, there are many career paths you can take," says Linda Bachman (EdD '13), director of university experiential learning. "Through the initiative, the university will help students find hands-on experiences that help them understand how their education at UGA translates in the nonacademic world."

The university-wide experiential learning requirement goes into effect this fall, but many faculty and colleges have long had programs that take students out of the classroom and into practical learning situations.

"Faculty with significant experience in experiential teaching are being recognized and validated for it," Bachman says.

Geography Professor Nik Heynen became acquainted with experiential learning as a graduate student at the University of Indiana. He implemented programs at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and did the same when he arrived at UGA in 2006.

For eight years, Heynen and two colleagues have been teaching a service-learning course called the Athens Urban Food Collective (AUFC). Students grow vegetables in a garden on the roof of the geography building and partner with local organizations to distribute the food. Materials initially were donated by Athens businesses. The AUFC program is a perfect fit for the experiential learning initiative, Heynen says.

"From the very beginning of it, it's been a community-oriented endeavor," he says.

In Heynen's new Maymester class, Geography of the Georgia Coast Domestic Field Study Program, he expects students to "think through real-life problems" while living among the residents of Sapelo Island. Participants study the historical geography of the coast, learn about ongoing pressures due to increased development, and engage in a service-learning project.

 "To be able to experience the changes on the Georgia coast, while reading about them and thinking about how to do some problem solving, it's like a one-two-three punch," he says.

Camp DIVE — an acronym for Discover, Inquire, Voice, Explore — is the College of Education's newest opportunity for students to gain practical experience working and teaching outside of the classroom.

The camp will provide College of Education students another avenue to work with kindergarten through middle-school students in the classroom. Janna Dresden is excited about the rewards it will offer to the Athens-Clarke County students who will attend it and the UGA undergraduates who will engage with them in hands-on activities.

"The idea for Camp DIVE has been brewing for many, many years, but the timing is very fortuitous," Dresden says.

These examples show that UGA's experiential learning program is building, Bachman says, as even more faculty develop "cutting-edge, innovative, hands-on, transformational experiences for students."

Published Monday,