Campus News

Students master a variety of lessons through experiential learning

Mikala Bush

Reading and writing about other cultures and social interaction came easily to Iva Dimitrova, a third-year anthropology student at UGA. It was the idea of going out and interviewing subjects—anthropology in practice—that really scared her.

But last fall, after spending a semester in Costa Rica, that fear turned into confidence, she said. Things came into focus when she helped conduct an oral history project about Costa Rican grocery stores. Dimitrova got to practice skills she had only talked about in class, and she loved it.

“Finally, after two years of studying I got to see how it all comes together,” Dimitrova said. “It gave me the confidence to see that this is what I like, and I wanted to do it.”

Not every college student gets to have this kind of clarifying experience, but UGA is moving forward with a strategy to direct students toward similar practical learning opportunities, at home and abroad, through a new experiential learning requirement for all undergraduate students. The goal is to nudge students toward getting better prepared for work or graduate education and becoming more confident in their abilities.

“Each experience (will) help students connect foundational knowledge to real-world challenges, hone critical thinking and problem-solving skills and build confidence and civic responsibility,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead in announcing the proposal during his State of the University address in January.

Experiential learning opportunities come from a variety of places, including research and internship opportunities for students in professional, science and humanities disciplines.

P. Toby Graham, an associate provost and the head librarian at UGA, said campus libraries already offer a variety of research and hands-on learning opportunities for students through internships and fellowships. They could offer even more if needed, he said, which would be a win-win for students and researchers in the university’s digital and special collections libraries.

“We have seen in the past that these have been great experiences for students, and they also bring some great people in the library,” Graham said.

Mikala Bush, a fourth-year psychology and public health double-major, said she gained valuable experience as a student worker at the Peabody Awards archives, which is housed in UGA’s Richard B. Russell Building Special Collections Libraries. Bush helped organize a screening and exhibit for the Peabody Decades project last year, searching for video clips through the Peabody Awards archives from the 1960s.

Compared to a class assignment, Bush’s role in the Peabody Decades project gave her more control over her learning experience.

“In a class, most of the time, you can’t pick the syllabus, the curriculum or the subject,” she said.

But that’s exactly what she did for her screening project.

After Bush graduates in May, she’s planning to join the Peace Corps. She thinks her experience researching and then facilitating an event like Peabody Decades will be useful if she gets an assignment overseas.

For Dimitrova, her experience in Costa Rica helped clarify her career goals. She has added a second major in UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication so that she can work toward becoming an anthropological documentary filmmaker.

She is now a student worker with the First Person Project in the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies and won a Summer Research Fellowship to work on an oral history project to document the transition from communism in Bulgaria using modern oral history methodologies.

Dimitrova said the experiential learning requirement is a good idea because it offers students an opportunity to experiment and figure out what they like.

“My interests in oral history and media production both arose out of opportunities to try them out in contexts outside of the UGA classroom,” she said. “The experiential learning initiative can bring these opportunities closer to students, by establishing connections between learning and doing and seeing if what you’re doing feels right. That’s how I was sure I’d made the right decision in what I was studying—I just felt it.”