Thursday, March 31, 2011

Learning through Experience

From my perspective, at the heart of the University of Rhode Island’s academic plan lies the commitment to substantially expand the engagement of our students – at both the graduate and undergraduate levels – in research, scholarship, creative work, practica, and internships. This goal is linked to all of the other elements in the plan. As we educate students for success in the 21st century – with its unprecedented rates of change and the magnitude of the global challenges – nothing will be more valuable than providing our students with the opportunities to grapple with problems that have not been previously solved, or to create things that have not previously been created.

We have an admirable record of success in such endeavors, so this is not a new educational strategy for URI. Undergraduate research has long been an emphasis here. Our senior design courses in the College of Engineering are a long-standing element of the engineering curriculum and confront students with “real-world” problems. The Textiles, Fashion Merchandising, and Design Department’s spring fashion show annually highlights the amazing creativity of our students in the program, as do the many performances and exhibitions of our students in theatre, music, and art. I could fill pages with examples of the innovative ways our faculty and staff have worked to build "experiential learning" into the fabric of the university.

URI is working to expand such opportunities for students and spread them throughout the undergraduate curricula in all our departments. For example, URI 101 has a service learning component. And check out the website for the Office of Internships and Experiential Learning to get a good sense of the range of opportunities available to students and the extensive support offered by URI to students, faculty, and employers. This week I visited the Production Lab in the Department of Writing and Rhetoric, which provides a top-notch technical environment and a variety of support services for students interested in research and outreach in writing and in preparing cutting-edge web-based portfolios to showcase their work.

The word is getting out. As I talk with companies, organizations, and communities across Rhode Island an emerging theme is the interest in recruiting University of Rhode Island students to assist with projects and problems. Our students are making a difference in numerous capacities, and significantly enhancing their education at the same time. Research, creative work, and experiential learning are becoming hallmarks of a URI education and everyone who participates benefits.