TACOMA, Wash. – University of Puget Sound is initiating strategies to ensure that every student has a well-integrated set of opportunities to apply their liberal arts learning to “real-world” experiences and hands-on projects during their four years of study. The efforts are being generously supported by a $250,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
The goal of broadening “experiential learning” on campus aims to encourage every student to think deeply about how they structure their learning and to build an evidenced portfolio of distinguishing skills, abilities, and knowledge that will enhance their success in pursuing fulfilling lives and careers after college.
“We already know from the data that a liberal arts education equips young adults with the interdisciplinary knowledge, creative problem-solving skills, and team-building mindset that today’s global and regional companies and organizations seek,” said Ronald R. Thomas, president of Puget Sound.
“This strategic initiative on experiential learning will demonstrate the practical value of a liberal education by ensuring that every student grapples with experiences that connect theory and practice, that they can articulate the value and meaning of what they have learned, and that they intentionally apply that knowledge to define and pursue their ambitions beyond college. We are delighted to have the Mellon Foundation as a partner in this exciting endeavor.”
The three-year grant comes as part of Puget Sound’s successful $125 million One [of a Kind] comprehensive campaign, which concludes this summer. The grant was designated as a “presidential discretionary grant,” to be used for the purposes the president deems of greatest strategic value.
It will help Puget Sound synthesize, expand, and assess experiential learning opportunities. These might include internships, campus leadership, research, field-work, study abroad, community service, clinical or work experience, and individual capstone projects. Specifically, over the three years, the funds will be applied to:
- Develop faculty members as advisors to help students take proactive roles in incorporating appropriate learning experiences into their academic programs
- Equip faculty advisors with strategies that encourage students to reflect on their experiences and to engage in dialogue with others about their learning
- Expand and strengthen experiential learning opportunities, including piloting new “study away” programs within the United States
- Support the Career and Employment Services office in overseeing existing and new learning options
- Offer students individual e-portfolios, where they can demonstrate what they have learned, on and off campus, over four years
- Hold symposia where students showcase their applied learning and inspire other students to try new things
- Enhance the ability of the Office of Alumni and Parent Relations to support parent and alumni volunteers who want to offer experiential learning alternatives
- Continue to build partnerships with city and regional businesses, and civic and nonprofit institutions, who may offer off-campus connections
The initiative is being overseen by Academic Vice President Kristine Bartanen, who had a key role in planning the initiative and moving it forward. Bartanen chaired the Experiential Learning Work Group, commissioned in 2013–14 by President Thomas to gather information on existing opportunities, programs at other liberal arts colleges, and the resources needed to achieve the new vision.
Significant programs and opportunities for first-hand learning are already available at Puget Sound. These include new initiatives such as the faculty-led, study-abroad Asian field schools focused on environmental issues, the Northwest Five Consortium Food Systems summer course, the geologically and environmentally focused Southwest Semester, and the Tacoma Entrepreneur Network (TEN).
There are also many long-standing programs, such as the nine-month Pacific Rim study-travel program, summer research scholarships, internships, academic fieldwork, the Civic Scholarship Project, community service, study abroad, campus leadership roles, programs organized by the Race and Pedagogy Initiative and Sound Policy Institute, and numerous class-directed projects.
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has been a generous supporter of Puget Sound, backing efforts such as internationalizing the curriculum for Environmental Policy and Decision Making; development of a Latina/o Studies program; creating new humanities and Honors program initiatives; connecting students’ academic and co-curricular lives through residential seminars; and providing junior faculty sabbaticals, which often result in curricular enhancements and new research.