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New focus on experiential learning will support students’ flourishing through connection, integration and reflection
Students on campus

“Connect-Integrate-Reflect: Experiential Education at Emory,” the university’s new five-year Quality Enhancement Plan, will expand education abroad, internships and community-engaged learning for undergraduates, as well as development opportunities for faculty.

Hands-on, active learning and thoughtful reflection are at the heart of “Connect-Integrate-Reflect: Experiential Education at Emory,” the university’s new Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP).

The QEP is a component of Emory’s reaffirmation of accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). Every 10 years, as part of the reaffirmation of accreditation process, institutions must put together a compliance certification report, which includes an in-depth, five-year plan that addresses a topic or issue related to improving student learning.

In alignment with the strategic priorities of One Emory: Ambition and Heart, initiatives such as Student Flourishing and the university’s strong commitment to liberal arts education, Connect-Integrate-Reflect will support students’ personal and professional success by expanding opportunities to apply academic knowledge to real-world situations, guided by faculty, alumni and community partners.

"Connect-Integrate-Reflect will elevate Emory’s undergraduate experience by intentionally intertwining our strong academic offerings with real-world, experiential learning opportunities,” says Ravi V. Bellamkonda, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “We will empower our students to extend their knowledge through lived experiences, creating a holistic learning environment that enables student flourishing and fosters a strong sense of purpose.”

As its title suggests, the QEP will connect students with communities across the globe in which they will integrate and apply academic knowledge. With guidance from faculty, students will then reflect on these learning experiences. 

Broadening opportunities for students

Although experiential education has long been a mainstay for Emory undergraduate and graduate students, Connect-Integrate-Reflect will establish its role as a key element of an Emory education.

According to Joanne Brzinski, senior associate dean for education in Emory College of Arts and Sciences, research demonstrates that experiential learning deepens and enhances students’ education.

“One purpose of the experiential opportunities is to allow students to apply their knowledge in a setting where the outcomes are undetermined, and they need to adjust to real and unexpected outcomes,” says Brzinski. “All of this contributes to students’ ability to move from academia to careers, and understand the relationship between classroom learning and real-life problem-solving.”

Jack Tullier, a third-year student in Goizueta Business School, confirms its value. While a student at Oxford College, he participated in community-engaged learning (CEL), tutoring elementary school students at the Washington Street Community Center in Covington, Georgia. “The CEL program allows students to embrace the wider world outside of campus and get involved in environments that are new, unique and broadening,” Tullier says, noting that his interactions with external community partners helped him think beyond the familiar.

Connect-Integrate-Reflect will create more opportunities for students like Tullier to have such transformative experiences.

To support new opportunities for experiential learning in education abroad, internships and community-engaged learning, Emory will establish, strengthen and formalize partnerships in local, national and international communities. Faculty and staff will receive training to facilitate experiential learning activities.

Program growth and training opportunities will be assessed each semester. Data from student, faculty and staff surveys, focus groups, interviews and written evaluations of collaborations and training manuals will measure progress and inform ongoing improvements.  

As Connect-Integrate-Reflect moves through its planning phase and into implementation in year two, the Emory community will engage in an Experiential Learning Week, to be held annually. It will feature panels; workshops for faculty, staff and students; and research on education abroad, internships and community-engaged education. The event will socialize experiential learning and further embed it within the context of undergraduate education at Emory.

Career connections

Students who are eager to learn more about experiential learning now can connect with the Emory College of Arts and Sciences Pathways Center, led by Branden Grimmett, vice provost for career and professional development. Experiential learning is one of the ways the Pathways Center supports students’ professional growth.

“The college-to-career journey is a daunting one for any student,” says Grimmett. “The Pathways Center is activating students to discover experiential learning opportunities outside the classroom, lab, studio and stage from the moment they begin at Emory.

“Students will soon travel to Washington, D.C., through our Career Trek program to meet Emory alumni working in policymaking. We have also established cohort-based internships in Los Angeles and D.C., where students live and work together under the guidance of Emory faculty. These programs, plus our robust funding for summer experiences, help students smoothly navigate their time at Emory and beyond.”

Experiential education is directed by Ed Goode, who leads the popular Career Treks that connect students with alumni, who share their educational and professional journeys. Treks take groups of students to different cities, including New York and Los Angeles, where they focus on specific industries.

Career Treks are one of five signature programs of the Pathways Center, including the Pathways Scholars Program, the Sophomore SummitNetworking Nights and internship funding, which allowed Ismael Delgado Karim, a second-year student majoring in human health and international studies, to pursue an internship abroad.

In the Canary Islands, where he interned at an organic produce store and engaged with local farmers, Karim learned the value of embracing new experiences, maintaining an open mind and aligning his values and professional endeavors.

“I discovered my strengths in adaptability and independence as well as a passion for sustainability and community engagement,” he says. “As I contemplate my plans, I am now more attuned to the factors that truly matter to me. I believe that these insights will guide me in making meaningful decisions about my career and life beyond graduation. I am immensely grateful for this summer experience and the profound growth it has brought to my personal and professional development.”

The impetus of Connect-Integrate-Reflect

Connect-Integrate-Reflect, created by a university-wide Development Committee that began its work in fall 2022, responds to a constellation of events and needs, including Emory’s desire to address the impact of the pandemic on education abroad opportunities, the ongoing development of new general education requirements and the evolution of strategic priorities.

In a five-year process involving all of Emory’s undergraduate schools, faculty approved new general education requirements that went into effect with the first-year class in fall 2023. Among the new requirements is that each student participate in at least one significant experiential learning experience.

“Students have been universally positive about the new requirement. Continuing students have frequently commented that they wish experiential learning was among their requirements, and new students have been enthusiastic about thinking through the opportunities,” Brzinski says.

Connect-Integrate-Reflect will support students’ ability to meet that requirement and help them see the connections between their Emory education and the external communities they may enter upon graduation.

Oxford College students have been meeting a similar requisite since 2018. Connect-Integrate-Reflect will build on demonstrated campus expertise, and deepen it with the support of Oxford Center for Pathways and Purpose, led by interim director Bridgette Gunnels. 

“The Oxford Center for Pathways and Purpose will act as a cohesive net that intentionally engages Oxford students and the communities of Oxford and Newton County and connects that engagement to the academic program,” Gunnels says.

The center will also draw on alumni from the larger Emory community for peer-to-peer education, such as sharing educational and professional paths with current students.

Gunnels, a professor of Spanish, offers experiential learning courses as part of her own pedagogy. She was in Cuba teaching her Evolution of Revolution course when Emory announced the closure of its campuses due to COVID 19 — an experience that impacted students’ reflections on community and connection in ways that point towards the profound impact that experiential education has. 

By fostering similar opportunities for education abroad, she says, the QEP will prioritize and magnify the transformational moments that experiential education generates across both campuses.

Frameworks for achievement

The One Emory: Ambition and Heart strategic framework informs every aspect of experiential learning — from providing students with a strong academic experience to attaining faculty eminence and deeper engagement with the city of Atlanta.

Within Connect-Integrate-Reflect, the positive impact of experiential learning will strengthen students’ critical thinking skills, offer faculty development and create a new opportunity to build strong relationships with Atlanta organizations in which each partner learns from the other.

In addition to enriching Emory’s student experience, the Student Flourishing initiative is also a powerful framework for experiential learning. Emphasizing academic experience, purposeful reflection, professional pathways and community and well-being, Student Flourishing aligns with the process of experiential learning.

As part of Connect-Integrate-Reflect, students will choose an activity of personal and professional interest, call upon what they’ve learned in the classroom to complete it and then reflect on the experience, reinforcing the holistic mindset of Student Flourishing by asking whether the experience was a good fit with their personal intentions and how it might direct—or redirect—their professional path.

QEP leadership

The Office of the Provost will oversee QEP development, implementation, and assessment. A QEP management team (director, assessment specialist and project coordinator) will be assembled by the fall 2024 semester and report to the vice provost for academic planning. The QEP team will create a support infrastructure and establish implementation and assessment committees. It will organize faculty and staff training and ensure Emory students have equitable access to opportunities.

Implementation and assessment committees will also begin to take shape during fall 2024, with full membership appointed by spring semester 2025.

QEP leadership will work with teams in Emory’s four undergraduate colleges and schools and the offices and centers within them. The Emory College Pathways Center and the Oxford Center for Pathways and Purpose will play prominent roles in addition to a range of partners including Emory College Education Abroad, Goizueta Business School BBA Career Management Center, BBA International Programs Office and the Lillian Carter Center for Global Health & Social Responsibility.

The offices of Undergraduate Affairs and Academic Planning and the Center for Faculty Development and Excellence, which support the university as a whole, will also be part of the QEP infrastructure.

Over the next year, QEP leaders will begin planning, building community partnerships, researching equity and reviewing best practices, with preparations to begin this summer and continue through the fall.

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