U. Akron launches program to boost learning experience

By Marilyn Miller, Akron Beacon Journal
March 8th, 2016

learning experience

New learning center will help students gain more from their classroom experience

The University of Akron has launched a new program designed to enhance the classroom learning experience for every student on campus.

The EXL (Experiential Learning) Center will help students gain hands-on experience in their professions and provide opportunities to work with faculty and community partners to build pathways to employment.

The center’s founding director, Jeff Hoffman, explained the concept to a group of about 40 people at the center’s kickoff.

“You don’t need just a good job, but a good life. Our job is to help you all make connections in every single direction… and see amazing things happen,” he said.

The university has budgeted $500,000 in startup costs for the center, which is located on the first floor of Bierce Library. The center has also secured two grants of $33,500 each from the Knight Foundation and the Burton D. Morgan Foundation.

And the center’s work begins immediately.

“It’s all about collaboration and putting people in touch with who they need to have a conversation with to hone or improve an idea,” said Carolyn Behrman, the EXL faculty collaboration director and an anthropology professor at UA.

“An entrepreneur in the community contacted career services and said he has an idea and is looking for collaboration with a student or professor to take his idea to the next level. He is bringing his idea to us, not some business.”

Behrman said she heard from a freshman earlier in the day who is considering a major in social work and wants to combine the theater with social work.

The student will soon meet with two faculty members — one from the theater department and another from social work — and a health professional for a brainstorming session on how to make those worlds meet in a therapy venture.

Seeking an edge

Ian Schwarber, the EXL resource director, said the experience will give students a competitive edge, make their resumes stand out and afford them an opportunity to talk about their real-life work experiences in interviews, which could bring out more of their personalities.

“It sounds like a really cool program,” said Michael O’Neill, 20, a junior at UA majoring in marketing. “I have some ideas of starting my own business and this will help me plan for the future.”

Ricky Angeletti, 21, a senior with a double major of accounting and economics, said he already has a job offer, but was intrigued by the center’s possibilities.

“This was very inviting. It would give me an opportunity to expand to something unconventional and rethink what I’m doing,” Angeletti said. “I want to help other people and I want to lead. If you team those two things together for a positive change for the future, the program may help me find out what I should do and what I can do.”

Soap Box Derby President and CEO Joe Mazur also attended the kickoff and volunteered to be part of the community advisory council. There are also student and faculty advisory councils.

“I wanted to be a part of it. I’m impressed with the energy and the concept. Great things can come out of it,” he said. “I like the design space for the center, and I think their vision will help students and the community.”

Real-world advantage

Hoffman said the center will help fulfill UA President Scott Scarborough’s vision of creating real-world work experiences across the spectrum.

“The most obvious careers — such as engineering and nursing — are used to having internship opportunities,” Hoffman said. “But if you’re a history major, it’s less obvious what internships, work studies and co-ops are good for those in the arts and sciences.”

Whether the student’s interest is in social services or business, he said he wants the EXL Center to help make connections.

“We want students to have a place to go if they have an idea that doesn’t exist. We want to be able to wrap them in a layer of help, from mentorship to education and research.”

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