The University of Georgia has taken a significant step toward ensuring that all of its students engage in the kinds of hands-on experiences that enhance learning and position them for success after graduation.
All undergraduate students will be required to engage in experiential learning-through opportunities that include undergraduate research, study abroad, service-learning, internships and other experiences-through a new graduation requirement approved April 22 by the institution's University Council.
With the experiential learning requirement, which will go into effect no sooner than fall 2016 for incoming first-year students, UGA will become one of the largest public universities in the nation to provide each of its students with high-impact, experiential learning opportunities that enhance academic performance and better prepare them for graduate school or careers. Each student will be able to select from a diverse slate of opportunities that reflect their individual interests and aspirations.
"With a spirit of innovation and a deep commitment to student learning, faculty at the University of Georgia continue to push the boundaries of undergraduate education," said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. "Offering a tailored, hands-on experience to our undergraduate students not only will further enhance this institution's world-class learning environment but also will further distinguish them as graduates."
Each of UGA's 14 schools and colleges that offer undergraduate degrees will determine which courses and experiences will fulfill the experiential learning requirement, which will go into effect as soon as their implementation plans are approved by University Council. In the meantime, UGA will aggressively expand the hands-on learning opportunities that it offers to students.
"Creating opportunities for each and every undergraduate student to engage in experiential learning is the kind of big, bold step that people have come to expect from the nation's first state-chartered university," said Pamela Whitten, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. "The experiences that our students will have as a result of this requirement will help them stand out from the rest of the pack when they apply for graduate school or begin their careers."
Experiential learning is often defined simply as "learning by doing," and Whitten noted that it has been shown to play an important a role in fostering engagement on campus, improving students' ability to analyze and synthesize information, and helping students transition to graduate school or the workforce. The new requirement builds upon UGA's strong history of leadership in providing experiential learning opportunities to students. UGA is consistently ranked among the nation's top universities for study abroad participation, for example, and more than 7,300 UGA students participated in service-learning courses in the last academic year alone.
UGA Student Government Association President Johnelle Simpson, who is pursuing a double major in risk management and insurance as well as political science, is planning on studying abroad in China next month through UGA's School of Public and International Affairs. He said the credit hours he will earn will help him graduate on time, and the learning experiences that he will have will differentiate him from other applicants when he applies to law school.
"It can open up doors for you when you have those kinds of experiences," Simpson said. "I've had friends who have published their research findings or have had internships that have led them to the careers that they're in now."
The requirement approved today by University Council was conceptualized by a task force of deans and developed in consultation with the faculties of all 14 schools and colleges offering undergraduate degrees. The new requirement will not increase the number of credit hours required to earn a degree, and a number of experiential learning opportunities, such as undergraduate research, service-learning and internships, come with no additional cost.
Linda Bachman, assistant dean in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and chair of the committee that was charged with drafting and facilitating discussion of the proposal, noted that faculty and students alike are enthusiastic about the positive impact of experiential learning for students-both during and after their studies.
"Experiential learning helps students make purposeful connections between their academic foundations and the impact they would like to make in their professional lives and communities," Bachman said. "Students who engage in hands-on learning return to the classroom with deepened commitment to their studies and enter graduate school or the workforce with firsthand experiences in their fields."
More information on UGA's experiential learning requirement is available at http://www.ugaexperience.com/.