Though the constant presence of construction materials indicates an evolving campus, it is student experiences that establish the enduring culture of Elon University. The Experiential Learning Requirements institutionalize certain learning practices and serve as an anchor between students, graduates and the transforming campus.
“They keep trying to connect to what hasn’t changed, and that is the soul of the campus,” said Connie Book, associate provost for academic affairs.
In 1994, Elon defined service, study abroad, undergraduate research, leadership and internship as the five Elon Experiences. Students must complete at least one in order to graduate.
“We are constantly looking at these experiences and how they move the students, and it’s a way to put learning into practice,” Book said.
Although discussions about the requirements are not a constant presence in the classroom, student interests naturally direct them toward completion of one or more of the designated experiences, according to Book.
“I came from a high school that had a very service-oriented community, so I’m going to continue with that,” said freshman Ben Koffel.
Even though he is not fluent in the requirements for each experience and isn’t structuring his college experience with the intention of fulfilling all five, he expressed an interest in leadership, study abroad, internship and service.
“We tend to attract students because they want to learn in this particular way,” said Pam Kiser, professor of human service studies.
Specific academic curriculums mandate participation in a desginated Experiential Learning Requirement. The business and communication schools require students to complete an internship for credit, and other departments recommend students enroll in the internship course, according to Pam Brumbaugh, director of experiential education.
“From a learning perspective, when a student can take what they learned in the classroom and apply it to the real world, it’s a great way to learn whether or not that theory works,” she said.
While junior Neima Abdulahi said she values internship experiences because they provide individuals with networking opportunities that distinguish job applicants from other submitted resumes, others recognize a connection between the professional experience and current academic pursuits. For sophomore Elizabeth Greenberg, her internship enhanced her understanding of academic material, she said.
“I’m a very big hands-on learner, and having an internship allows me to apply what I learned in the class to an actual situation, and it kind of sticks in my brain more,” said Greenberg, who interned at a non-profit organization last summer and earned an internship at a marketing firm for this upcoming summer.
Of the 2011 graduates, 89 percent indicated they completed an internship, and yet 79 percent received academic credit for their internship, allowing it to fulfill the ELR. This summer, each credit hour will cost $420, but Brumbaugh said it is worth the money.
Students completing an internship for credit work with a mentor on campus that prompts interns to think critically about their work, she said.
“It’s very powerful to have a guide by the side on site who is your boss and a guide at Elon who is your faculty sponsor,” Brumbaugh said. “The boss gives you assignments and feedback. The role of the guide at Elon is to give you academic assignments that cause you to reflect and think about what you’re doing and ways to challenge you to think about things that you probably wouldn’t even consider if you were totally on your own without given credit.”
Freshman Jenna Lockhart said she recognizes the importance of internships as a way to prepare for the future. While there is a contrast in the number of students who complete an internship compared to undergraduate research for credit, 79 percent and 18 percent respectively, Book attributed the difference to Elon students’ post-graduate plans.
While internships ready students for a career, undergraduate research has a stronger connection to graduate school preparation, Book said. About 30 percent of students attend graduate school after graduation, according to the 2011 Cap and Gown survey.
“I think it helps as a nice introduction to their professional community,” said Paul Miller, exercise science professor and director of undergraduate research.
Freshman Mary Young, a biochemistry major, said she intends to participate in undergraduate research, which will help her later with her career aspirations.
The experience marries activity within the classroom to student life, Miller said.
“It feeds our curiosities and those are both professional curiosities as well as curiosities as educated people,” he said. “It fosters our innate desire and need to be informed.”
While specific disciplines may be more drawn to research, limited resources also constrain the number of students able to participate in undergraduate research, according to Miller. Faculty members are only allowed to mentor students for 12 credit hours per year and the 3.0 GPA requirement reduces the number of students eligible for the experience.
Although, according to Greenberg, individuals’ studies and interests determine college involvement and selected Elon Experiences, the service component extends across multiple disciplines, Kiser said. Enrollment in a designated service-learning course, marked by the SL prefix, meets the ELR and develops a connection between service and academics.
“It’s embedded into the curriculum,” Kiser said. “Students don’t have to go out of their way to have these experiences.”
The Global Experience course prompts students to think about their global impact, and the variety of service-learning courses indicates that despite one’s major, there is a way to direct one’s academic interests to serve the public, she said.
“Elon made a decision as an institution that they want to take this idea of global citizenship very seriously and produce leaders for the common good,” Kiser said.
Students who are interested in fulfilling the service ELR, but are not enrolled in a course can work with the Kernodle Center and complete a workbook and reading assignments in order to still demonstrate the connection between service and study.
Fulfillment of the leadership ELR also includes a mentorship component to more directly link the experience with an academic growth. Therefore, not all students who earn a leadership position fulfill the leadership ELR.
In an institution where the majority of students earn leadership positions, a mentor is needed to evaluate the effectiveness of a student’s leadership and determine if it is worthy of credit for the ELR, said Abdulahi, who has held leadership positions but not fulfilled the leadership Elon Experience.
It would be too easy of a fulfillment if it didn’t have structure, she said.
“Through the intentional reflection process students are able to have a frame for how they are demonstrating leadership,” said Steven Mencarini, director of the Center for Leadership “Without this experience, the leadership they are demonstrating may be considered more random or episodic rather than being intentional.”
The leadership minor does not qualify as completion of the ELR because it is based on theories rather than leadership practice, Mencarini said. Leadership practice is measured according to the book “The Leadership Challenge,” which explains five basic practices of leadership.
The leadership ELR uses “The Leadership Challenge” by James Kouzes and Barry Posner. The five practices of exemplary leadership are model the way, encourage the heart, challenge the process, inspire a shared vision and enable others to act.
Though study abroad also appeals to students from a variety of majors, Greenberg found a connection between her experience in Buenos Aires during Winter Term to her studies in the business school.
“In the business school, it is good to know how business works in different countries,” she said.
Both faculty and students both emphasize the value of study abroad in order to better comprehend global relations.
“You can’t learn about another culture easily without being immersed in it,” said Donna Van Bodegraven, associate professor of Spanish.
Acknowledging one can foster an understanding for different cultures without traveling, Van Bodegraven said interaction with foreign people serves as an important learning practice.
“Studying abroad is a great opportunity during your college experience to get to see an unfamiliar place, but at the same time incorporate learning,” Lockhart said.
Regardless of the topic, all Winter Term study abroad courses address academic goals, personal goals and cultural awareness goals, Van Bodegraven said. The preparatory courses for the Winter Term sessions provide more structure and strengthen the academic component of the experience, she said.
While Greenberg and Young agree the opportunity to travel attracted them to study abroad, the interest is characteristic of the university, according to Van Bodegraven.
“I believe what has been communicated to Elon 101 students is not if you’re going to study abroad,” she said. “It’s when and where you’re going to study abroad, so it’s part of the ethos of the university.”