Students share enthusiasm for experiential learning

More than 70 students participate in fourth annual symposium

Photos/David Weinstein

Whether they study cell architecture in a lab, identify and exhibit rare Roman glass or advocate for less fortunate in communities around the country, Brandeis students learn by doing.

On an unseasonably warm afternoon recently, more than 70 of them passed up a sprinkler party on the Great Lawn hoping to inspire others with their tales of learning outside the classroom.

The fourth annual Experiential Learning Symposium, held in Levin Ballroom, featured presentations by a panel of three faculty-student pairs, student poster and multimedia presentations and sushi reception.

“It’s an extraordinary opportunity for you now,” Provost Steve Goldstein said of experiential learning opportunities as he welcomed the crowd, “but those of us who have stayed in the academic milieu know it’s something we do for the rest of our lives.”

Brandeis offers 300 experiential learning courses, in addition to myriad EL opportunities that students find on their own. More than 600 students get involved with some sort of community service in Waltham and the greater Boston area each semester; on average, students graduate having completed 2.5 internships.

Professor Laura Goldin, who presented with Sam Porter ’14, a student in her Environmental Health and Justice Program, a Justice Brandeis Semester (JBS) option, on “From Boston to Kentucky: A Semester of Engaged, Compassionate Learning,” said she believes in teaching students by working hands-on in the community because it teaches them “informed passion,” while also greatly contributing to the communities in which they work. JBS is a thematic, immersive semester of studies.

“It transforms lives and informs career choices,” she added.

Jessica Pullen ’13, who presented with biology Professor Bruce Goode on “Elucidating Cell Architecture: Mentoring, Training and National Science Foundation (NSF) Sponsorship,” agreed. Initially, she said, she applied to work in the Goode Lab so that she could check off “research” on her medical school application, but working closely with the professor and the post-doc student with whom she was paired boosted both her interest in the area and her confidence.

“Oftentimes, you don’t even know how much these experiences can impact your course in life,” she told her peers, adding that the experience has positively impacted her personal growth.

Benjamin Federlin ‘14, who presented with Professor Ann Olga Koloski-Ostrow, associate professor and chair of the Classical Studies Department, on “Glass of the Roman Empire: Fragility and Fortitude,” made his enthusiasm for his internship with the Eunice M. Lebowitz Cohen Classical Studies Artifact Research Collection clear when he talked about designing and curating an exhibit of Roman glass for the library. The collection is made up of 800 to 900 donated Greek and Roman artifacts.

Some of the pieces had previously gone undisplayed, even though the Museum of Fine Arts tried to buy some of them, he said.

“But they can’t have them; they are for us,” he interjected in his own speech, drawing smiles and laughter from the crowd.

Through the poster and multimedia presentations, students learned about a plethora of additional experiential learning opportunities, which help connect theory to practice. Civic engagement service, fellowships, internships, Hiatt Career Center, a Justice Brandeis Semester, practicums and EL courses and study abroad.

Some students even tried to help those already involved do a better job. Estie Martin ’14, was presenting a poster on her work with the Waltham Group’s disability awareness and community service program, Spectrum.

“A lot of the volunteers for other programs deal with kids who have special needs,” Martin said. “So we thought we’d share what we learned to help them. We think it’s really practical.”

Others just came out to support their friends and may have had their interest piqued in the process.

“I really came out to support my friend,” Micha Broadnax ’12 said. “I didn’t even know what she’d been doing all semester – she just told me the other day. I knew about WATCH [Housing Advocacy Clinic] and Healthy Waltham, but there are so many other internship [opportunities] I knew nothing about.”

Categories: Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, Science and Technology

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