Real-world learning comes to campus

Illinois Wesleyan University raises its own profile and boosts student engagement with immersive, practical experiences

Colleges and universities are enhancing undergraduate learning by combining in-class instruction with practical, real-world experiences. At Illinois Wesleyan University (IWU), freshmen and seniors can take part in two innovative programs that “bookend” their academic career, according to Mark Brodl, provost and dean of faculty.

The effort began three years ago when IWU launched its Signature Experience for seniors. “A Signature Experience is meant to be a project that may often be anchored in a clear academic discipline, but it may not necessarily be. It’s meant to look holistically at a student’s breadth of interest across their time at IWU. It’s an opportunity for them to assemble for themselves a project that pulls those components together,” says Brodl.

Self-directed learning
Students come up with proposals that draw on their interests, working with faculty members who help them find projects outside the classroom that deepen their studies. For example, IWU Biology Professor Will Jaeckle arranged for an intensive research trip to the Smithsonian Marine Station in Florida for Jamie Blumberg, a senior with an interest in viruses.

Although students can count on the counsel and mentoring of faculty, the Signature Experience is designed to have them take ownership of their learning and be independent. “We’re working hard on making sure that we’ve got the classroom experiences and the outer classroom experiences that help them build into those directions,” says Brodl.

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