We’ve witnessed the increased need and benefit of experiential learning opportunities for all college students over the years. Today, the internship is often referred to as the new job interview, helping students make connections and earn skills needed to land a job post graduation. Chancellor Zimpher herself has backed applied learning for all students by saying that “Experiential learning is one of the best ways for students—for anyone—to truly learn anything. It’s the real work experience that makes a difference in mastering skills, in completion, and in success after graduation.” At the 2016 State of the University address, we again heard the commitment to bring applied learning to scale across New York.
This week, SUNY Potsdam joined that commitment when they opened the first-ever dedicated Center for Applied Learning in the SUNY system with fanfare.
In its newly renovated location in the College’s library, the Center for Applied Learning will bring together the offices of experiential education, international education and student research, in a “one stop shop” at the heart of campus. The center has a clear mission: Make sure that every student has the opportunity to complete one or more high-impact learning experiences before they cross the stage at Commencement.
Guests at the ribbon-cutting and grand opening ceremony got a chance to tour the new Center for Applied Learning offices and learn more about its programs. They also cheered for some good news: Potsdam was awarded $750,000 to support the new center from the SUNY Investment and Performance Fund, which will allow the College to develop models of success for applied learning that can be replicated at other campuses throughout the system.
One of the star students on hand for the grand opening was Cindy Humphrey ’16. Her experiences exemplify what applied learning is all about.
An anthropology major from Port St. Lucie, Fla., Cindy went from spending an exchange year in Brazil to roughing it in the Adirondacks in the middle of winter. That’s because she decided to tackle SUNY Potsdam’s wilderness education minor, planning expeditions and treks, including a trip to the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico.
Growing up in a military family, Cindy later decided to apply her college studies to bear on a topic close to her heart, through research that combined her minor coursework in wilderness education and in community health.
“I thought about the veteran population I grew up around, and the post-traumatic stress disorders and traumatic brain injuries that many live with. I am interested in whether therapeutic recreation can ameliorate social reintegration issues for combat veterans—by medicating using the natural environment, rather than pharmacotherapy,” she said.
So in her junior year, Cindy completed a Presidential Scholars research project in partnership with the nearby Fort Drum U.S. Army base, where she shadowed staff at a health clinic and worked with an Outward Bound program.
Following her research experience, Cindy decided to seek out an internship. Thanks to SUNY Potsdam’s “Living the Map” program, she got to try five jobs in five weeks in five different locations last summer.
Developed by Daniel Seddiqui, the author of “Fifty Jobs in Fifty States: One Man’s Journey of Discovery Across America,” the program allows SUNY Potsdam students to test the waters in five different work places based on their career interests. Each intern earns six credits upon successful completion of the program. During their travels, they stay with host families, and mentors at each job site guide them through their experience.
Cindy started her journey in Alpharetta, Ga., where she worked with the Shepherd Center and Hire Heroes. Then she made her way to Molino, Fla., working with the Panhandle Warrior Connection, followed by a trip to Charleston, S.C., where she interned with Veterans on Deck. Cindy ended her journey in Virginia, spending time at the Salem Veterans Administration Hospital and with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors in Arlington.
“I have learned a lot of skills, all of which I can use tomorrow. But most important is the sense of self-reliance,” Cindy said. “You learn not to restrict yourself.
To learn more about applied learning at SUNY, visit www.suny.edu/applied-learning.