February 05, 2014

Experiential Learning Through Strategic Planning

Associate Provost for Academic Operations Susan Paris

One of Wentworth’s chief mantras, according to its Strategic Plan, is to put students first and one group at the institute is doing just that.

Headed by Susan Paris, associate provost for academic operations, the Strategic Plan’s E-1 team is charged with achieving superior results for students through deepening and expanding opportunities for academic achievement, career success, and engaged citizenship.

Specifically, Paris outlined, the team has three goals:

1)      Increase SAT scores of incoming classes

2)      Examine first to second-year retention rates and figure out how they can be increased

3)      Increase opportunities for experiential learning

Two goals have already been met, Paris said. The team wanted SAT scores to increase one point every year through the year 2018 to reach an average combined score of 1095; that goal was already reached this past year when incoming students carried with them an average score of 1111. The second goal, meanwhile, was met when Wentworth maintained its retention rate of 82 percent (team members are now looking at increasing the goal number pending data analysis).

It is the third goal on which the team spends most of its current time. And because there is a robust co-op program already in existence, the E-1 team wanted to think of items outside of co-op opportunities.

“We decided that we needed to provide an institutional framework for students to get the information on what kind of opportunities exist,” she said, adding that opportunities include service learning, study abroad, the Leadership Institute, Accelerate, and undergraduate research, among others.

“Experiential learning can occur in and out of the classroom,” she said, adding that they are factoring in the Institute’s push toward externally-collaborative, project-based, interdisciplinary curricula for learning.

Beyond identifying the types of experiential learning that can be employed, Paris believes that the examples must resonate with students to be successful. To that end, they are implementing more programs that students have called for, including ones related to studying abroad.

“We also have to make sure their schedule allows them to do all of these things, and make sure that every student has the opportunity to participate if he or she wants to,” Paris said.

The final step in making experiential learning a success, she shared, is building awareness. Paris and her team are working on their own website, one that will place an importance on campus events, list learning opportunities that are currently in place, and encourage feedback and ideas from students, “making the site a more active piece of campus life,” she said.

Paris and her team are also taking a page from Wentworth’s desire to work in an interdisciplinary way, calling upon specialists outside of the team to step in from time to time with guidance or perspective opinion.  She also wants to keep the team’s ideas fresh and continue to come up with new ways to stimulate learning among students.

“We want to teach students why experiential learning is so valuable in gaining knowledge and real world experience,” Paris said. “We hope that students will be able to use it in their job searches, to be able to talk to those kinds of learning opportunities that wouldn’t show up on their transcripts.”

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