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How We Build Our Future Workforce Through Applied Learning

Male and Female students from Alfred State in dark forensics lab

In today’s fast-paced and high-tech global economy, new skills are a premium to ensuring our college graduates come out of school ready to be a successful part of the workforce. With applied learning, SUNY strives to provide all students, even those attending online, the opportunity to find experiential education opportunities to make them ready for life after college by connecting them to hands-on experiences. From clinical placements and cooperative education to service learning, volunteerism, student research, international opportunities, and field study, students are becoming prepared to be a part of this very global economy.

The State University of New York was recently held up as the international model of delivering applied learning opportunities for students at this year’s Global Internships Conference, which was hosted by University College-Dublin and attended by more than 400 higher education officials from more than 30 countries.

As director of applied learning at SUNY, I could not be more proud to hear Aden Hayes, executive director of the Foundation for Practical Education, introduce our system-wide initiative as “the most ambitious experiential education undertaking of its kind in the world.”

At that moment and in the important discussions that followed, it became increasingly clear to all in attendance that SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher’s vision for bringing applied learning to every SUNY degree program is one for universities, colleges, and systems of higher education around the world to aspire to.

There simply is no more effective way to provide students with the skills and global competencies they will need to be successful in today’s workforce than through broad access to experiential opportunities such as internships, apprenticeships, and clinical placements.

Taking this notion a step further, the conference also explored the need for graduates to have knowledge and experiences that teach them about building civic capacity and generate a better understanding of cultures outside of the Unites States, as evidenced by an employer survey conducted by Hart Research Associates. Here again, SUNY is a leader.

Applied Learning at SUNY

In March of last year, Chancellor Zimpher announced SUNY’s participation in Generation Study Abroad, an Institute of International Education (IIE) initiative to mobilize resources and commitments to double the number of U.S. college students studying abroad by the end of the decade. SUNY already operates the largest study abroad consortium in the nation, providing students access to nearly 600 program opportunities on every continent.

As SUNY works to increase system-wide participation by at least 25 percent, campuses are expanding their study abroad networks to include more programs, partners, and destinations, offering on-the-job training through international internships at overseas locations and increasing awareness of the opportunities that already exist. Two examples of work being done at SUNY were highlighted at the conference.

Marianna Savoca, career center director at Stony Brook University, provided an overview of a multi-campus initiative that is increasing global awareness among low-income students. With a grant from the Jewish Foundation for Education of Women, the JFEW-SUNY Scholars Program was created in 2011 to increase awareness of global issues with an emphasis on those impacting women. And Amy Benedict, director of career development at SUNY Oneonta, and Internship Coordinator Megan Scrivener told participants how the college was able to offer nine new international internship programs locations in less than one year by partnering with two organizations, Academic Internship Council (AIC) and Connect-123. In addition, SUNY Oneonta student Krystal LaDuc shared her experience as a current intern in Dublin.

A Snapshot of Applied Learning across SUNY is available online. In general, these opportunities include:

  • SUNY Works – internships, clinical placements, in which more than 20,000 SUNY students are already enrolled; and cooperative education programs (“co-ops”), in which SUNY faculty and area employers have jointly developed curricula that integrate classroom instruction and on-the-job experience. Approximately 1,740 students are currently enrolled in co-ops across SUNY.
  • SUNY Serves – service-learning, community service, civic engagement and volunteerism. More than 30,000 SUNY students are currently engaged in formal service-learning programs for which they earn college credit, while tens of thousands more participate in community service and volunteer locally, nationally and around the globe.
  • SUNY Discovers – study abroad, student research, entrepreneurial ventures and field study. While SUNY research has a proud history of breakthrough discoveries, inventions and startups, our increased focus on applied learning has led to an unprecedented level of collaboration between SUNY students, faculty and industry experts to enable commercialization of the best ideas and innovations born at our campuses.
SUNY attendees of the 2015 Global Internship Conference

SUNY representatives highlight best practices at Global Internships Conference in Ireland. From left: John J Wood, Senior Associate Vice Provost for International, University at Buffalo; Amy Benedict, Director of Career Development, SUNY Oneonta; Krystal LaDuc ’16 SUNY Oneonta; Elise Newkirk-Kotfila, Director of Applied Learning, SUNY System Administration; Marianna Savoca, Director of the Career Center, Stony Brook University; Robert Walter, Assistant Director Washington Internship Program, SUNY Brockport; Megan Scrivener, Internship Coordinator, SUNY Oneonta


Written by Elise Newkirk-Kotfila

Elise is Director of Applied Learning at SUNY System Administration.

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There is 1 comment

  • Jim Stellar says:

    OK. I am late to the game in commenting, but I wanted to say that this is the right way to go. Higher education has to have a big impact on the lives of students with the time-honored and really impressive academic knowledge and thinking skills we transmit. The way to do that is to complement that good work with experiences outside (and inside) the curriculum. It is nice to see SUNY standing tall in Dublin. Great city too.

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