Experiential Learning By IUP Student Julie Pittman

Experiential learning, or the process of learning by doing, is vital in today’s education and workforce. Hands-on learning is beneficial to many people and provides a transition from passive learning in the classroom to active learning in a work environment. Many opportunities for experiential learning exist, such as internships, study abroad, student teaching, and shadowing. These opportunities provide students with a broader view of their scope of interest and foster the development of practical skills.

Businesses also benefit by receiving new perspectives from students and will often hire them after the internship is complete. Experiential learning opportunities help students build their resumes, making them more desirable by prospective employers. Robin Gorman, Indiana County Commissioner, adds, “Experiential learning is not done by yourself, but with others or a team of people. It is more ‘realistic to life’ and what it means to not only learn from yourself but through and with a team of other people.”

Lori Lombard, Chair of Communication Disorders, Special Education & Disability Services at IUP, reports that IUP is committed to providing experiential learning opportunities to every student. “From basic skills to complex problem solving, we are scaffolding our academics to provide engaging experiences in the continuum of the college degree from introductory courses to the advanced discipline-specific coursework to credentialing and internships”.

The Tri-County Workforce Investment Board has had college level interns in the past for IT, according to Executive Director Mary Salony. “These interns have been extremely successful. Although we have changed our IT department, we have been thinking about employing interns with public relations, webpage development and updates, accounting, and business relations”.

Stacie Isenberg, Curriculum Specialist at ARIN IU 28, explains that ARIN offers college level internships as well as student teaching opportunities each semester. “Many of our departments partner with other community organizations to help offer learners of special populations (adult learners, people with special needs, pregnant or parenting teens, etc.) work-based learning experiences”.

Mark Hilliard, president of the Indiana County Chamber of Commerce reports, “In Indiana County we are trying to develop a program so that everybody would have access to some type of experiential learning by the time they graduate high school.” This will create a partnership between businesses and schools, giving students the skills, they need for their future careers and educating businesses about learning opportunities.

There are some challenges to this, specifically with the amount of time it takes to train students in these positions. The workforce shortage makes this even more difficult. Lombard adds that internships can be a challenge for students who don’t have the finances for daily transportation or, for unpaid internships, to support themselves with no income. Salony explains that “it is truly a teaching and mentoring opportunity” and should be considered as more than just free help.

As a requirement for IUP and the Cook Honors College, I had the choice of an internship or study abroad. I decided to look for an internship to gain work experience, and I was offered a position at the Indiana County Office of Planning and Development for the fall semester. Throughout this experience, I’ve applied the skills I learned from college as an English major and journalism minor to a real-world application. Classes teach valuable skills to students, but hands-on experiences take learning to the next level, so I now feel more competent in my field of work.