In defense of experiential learning

Maybe it’s nostalgia setting in for these last few weeks of school, but I can’t help reflecting on the experiences that meant so much to me and my friends here. And I’m worried, because the college’s newest interim curriculum changes have removed the experiential learning LSC that pushed us into those experiences.

Yes, the experiential learning requirement is something of a box to check off for some students, and it’s not integrated as well into other majors as my major, MJD. But my experiences that fit the EL requirement are the most powerful elements of my four years here. Two semesters with The Defender, study abroad to Morocco and three internships will define me going forward.

Since The Defender has been opened up to non-MJD majors and minors, there have been lots of people who have participated and gotten to share in the crazy experience of producing a paper. This includes my freshman-year roommate, our Arts Editor Abigail Bowie, ’17, who surprised me when she showed up to class that first week. She was apprehensive at first, a Spanish major that just needed to get her experiential learning requirement over with to graduate.

As the semester has worn on The Defender has grown on her, and she is an absolute asset to the team. With nothing but a need to check off one last LSC, Bowie found a class where she got to explore topics that were important to her through writing opinion columns, learn how to write for news and learn some new technical layout skills.

This class also gave me the space to be a media producer. Seeing fresh Defenders come off the printing press is exhilarating. And consider study abroad and internships: Lots of my friends are science majors, which inevitably makes it harder to study abroad because of class schedules. If it wasn’t for the experiential learning requirement, my friend Julia Sheehan, ’17, would not have joined the Cuba trip. Like other friends who have gone abroad because they felt it was the best way to complete their experiential learning requirement, Julia came back different. This requirement teaches students to communicate with all types of people outside the classroom.

At the end of your college career you are expected to be able to go into the “real world.” How can we not integrate those experiences into what we learn here? It’s a changing world and experiences like study abroad, internships and doing research are what set students apart. I have been faced with ethical dilemmas while abroad and on campus that have taught me how to react, each time I learn more about myself and why what I do is important. That’s what I’m taking with me. Hopefully, other students have have learned the same thing in their chosen tracks through experiential learning.

If only every student was inspired from day one to seek out these experiences. Requirements are not the best solution to the problem, but if that’s the way that we get nudged along, an experiential learning requirement is—and should remain—a fundamental part of the St. Michael’s curriculum.


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