“MAP is actually what drew me to Meredith in the first place. I wanted the opportunity to work with children who were on the autism spectrum.” – Gemma Brodney
Meredith senior Gemma Brodney knew that she wanted to work with the Meredith Autism Program (MAP) before she even arrived on campus for her first semester.
“MAP is actually what drew me to Meredith in the first place,” said Brodney, who is pursuing a double major in psychology and child development. “I wanted the opportunity to work with children who were on the autism spectrum.”
MAP, a program for young children who have been diagnosed on the autism spectrum, is just one of a number of opportunities at Meredith that offer students experiential learning without leaving campus.
These programs serve students in several ways: strengthening what they learn in their academic coursework, providing valuable experience that supports them upon graduation, and helping them make connections on campus.
In part, these experiential learning opportunities help students move from the theoretical to the applied.
Brodney, for instance, took a conditioning and behavior modification class through the psychology department. The class provided her with theories about behavior.
“Then you can come to MAP and put it into practice,” she said. “You can collect data, do assessments. You get to see the entire thing unfold.”
Junior Haley Ligon, who is double majoring in sociology and criminology, has also seen how an experiential learning opportunity can reinforce coursework. She is working with sociology faculty member Amie Hess to update and expand the College’s 2013 report The Status of Girls in North Carolina. Ligon’s role is researching and writing a section about the victimization and criminalization of girls.
“It’s interesting to be able to see all the theories that we’ve learned in class” and see “them applied to the real world,” Ligon said.
Ligon chose to work on the section on criminalization in part because she plans to go to law school after graduating from Meredith.
“Having a background in this will help me because I understand that not everything is what it seems on the surface,” Ligon said. It “will broaden my perspective on how I view things, which hopefully will make me a better lawyer, because I’m not just thinking of one side of the issue.”
Hess, the department head for sociology and criminology, said that she encouraged the students working with her on the report to choose something that related to their academic interests.
“Most chose a section that was in some way related to their major,” Hess said. For instance, another student in the class has written several essays about immigration in her sociology major classes, so she is continuing with that topic for the research she is doing with Hess.
Like the research team, Learning Center tutors also find their work supports their academic interests. Junior Jessica Tucker sees the ways her role as a chemistry tutor for fellow Meredith students connects to her coursework as a chemistry major and education licensure student.
While reinforcing what she’s learned in chemistry coursework, she is applying concepts from her education classes on how to work with different kinds of learners. “I can take one concept and explain it six ways to six students. I figure out how I can work around one subject to meet different students’ needs,” Tucker said.
Teaching Fellow Laura Culpepper, a senior English major earning elementary teaching licensure, also works in the Learning Center. Culpepper directly applies her coursework in English to her work as a writing tutor – from helping students read and understand essay prompts to helping students learn to identify comma splices to, more broadly, helping students with their writing.
“I am constantly reviewing the material of student writing and structures and trying to think like a writer,” Culpepper said, “and communicating that to my tutees, reflecting on the writing process.”
Cooper Rodriguez, a junior majoring in exercise and sports science (ESS), also works with fellow students in her experiential learning opportunity.
Rodriguez organizes instructors and classes for Angels in Motion (AIM), which offers exercise classes taught by student instructors to Meredith students. Rodriguez, too, has seen how her work with the organization has strengthened concepts in her academic coursework.
For instance, in an ESS course last fall, students learned about marketing, and Rodriguez took ideas from the course to help promote AIM classes across campus.
“Group exercise is important to me,” Rodriguez said, “and I wanted to be a part of something that could help better students’ lives on campus.” Learning new ways to promote AIM on campus is one way for her to reach that goal.
Staff and faculty who work with students on campus also make a point to encourage students to pursue their academic strengths and interests in their experiential learning.
Through her mentorship of the STAT Team – the Student Technology and Training Team – Karen Brenneman, ’94, Meredith’s director of technical information resources, tries to match students’ work with their academic interests.
The STAT Team, which was created four years ago, connects Meredith’s technology services department to the student population and serves as Meredith’s tech support help desk.
“Once students work here for a little while, we get to know their interests and major classes, and we try to pair them with a need,” said Brenneman.
Megan Balmer, a senior graphic design major who has worked with the STAT Team since her first year, applies the design skills she has honed in her classes to her work with the STAT Team: she created a graphic for Meredith’s Technology Services as a form of campus outreach.
Preparation For The Future
Cailyn Clymore, a junior majoring in communication and minoring in professional writing and presentation media, said that her on-campus experiential learning opportunity in Meredith’s marketing department is enhancing skills that will aid her not only in her academic coursework but also in her future career.
“I’ve been told over and over that having writing skills, no matter what you want to do in the communication field, is really important,” Clymore said, adding that her work with the marketing department is helping her become a more efficient writer.
For example, Clymore wrote a piece for Meredith’s website after writer Lee Smith’s on-campus event last fall. “The Lee Smith piece was due the next day,” she said, “so I’ve learned to gather my thoughts quickly and effectively.”
Like Clymore, the work that Jessica Tucker is doing with the Learning Center is directly related to her future career as a science teacher. She is gaining additional experience conducting research with Assistant Professor of Chemistry Andrea Carter.
Tucker has helped Carter put together a workshop for struggling chemistry students using a teaching technique called POGIL: Process-Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning. For the workshop, the students come together for two hours a week, during which Tucker does a mini-lesson. Students work together in groups to complete practice exercises related to the lesson, and Tucker is able to help them if they have questions. Since the workshop began in the fall of 2016, Tucker and Carter have already seen an improvement in students’ grades and in their learning.
Through both of her on-campus learning opportunities, Tucker has had the chance to add to her resume and practice skills she’ll use in the classroom.
Faculty and staff who mentor students in their experiential learning also emphasize the ways in which students’ work can help them going forward.
“We make a very deliberate attempt to help them connect the skills they gain here with their future employment,” said Carmen Christopher, Learning Center director and assistant professor of English.
Christopher also underscores to tutors the importance of professionalism. “That’s a lot of the mentoring that goes into my job – explaining to them how the work world works,” said Christopher. “It’s great for them to get this experience before they go out to the work world, where the consequences might be bigger.”
Brodney, the student working with MAP, also sees building professionalism as a benefit of experiential learning.
“Opportunities like MAP allow students to have a chance to function in a professional or clinical environment,” Brodney said.
Jennifer Kane, IT support services manager and co-mentor of the STAT Team, noted the work that students do provides important skills that can translate to many different careers.
“We expect a lot of them in terms of professionalism,” Kane said. When students work on the Tech Services Help Desk, for instance, they learn “how to listen to people” and how to be “professional on the customer service desk.”
Kathleen Davis, ’16, had an on-campus experiential learning opportunity in which listening to others was an important part of the job. In her senior year, she served as co-art director of Circus Design, an in-house graphic design studio staffed by Meredith students.
Davis, who was a graphic design major at Meredith, designed the 2015-16 Colton Review, Meredith’s art and literary magazine.
Through her work with Circus Design, Davis met with the editor of The Colton Review to get input on the design. Now, Davis said, as a graphic designer at an agency in Chapel Hill, she is “in contact with customers directly to understand their needs and vision.”
The sixth pillar of Meredith’s strategic plan, Meredith Forever, calls for enriching the “quality of life for Meredith faculty, staff and students” through, in part, “stronger collaboration and communication among faculty, staff, and students.”
On-campus experiential learning opportunities are one way that students learn to better collaborate and communicate with these groups. And some of these relationships might not have formed without the learning opportunity.
Balmer said it’s often difficult for seniors to get to know first-year or sophomore students, but through her work with the STAT Team she is able to work with students in other classes. “The same goes for staff in technology services,” Balmer added. “Some of my bosses are really good friends. It’s nice to have that support.”
Through MAP, Brodney has formed connections with children, parents, and the MAP faculty and staff.
“You get a window into all of those perspectives,” she said. “If I were to go forward and work in this environment, I’ve had an opportunity to look at things from the perspective of the parent, and think about how this plays out in the context of the family.”
Experiential learning overall aligns with Meredith’s vision for the future: The first pillar in Meredith Forever is to “ensure educational excellence through curricular and co-curricular pathways that lead to student success,” in part by “focusing on critical thinking and experiential learning.”
Students agree that the experiential learning adds value to their overall Meredith experiences.
“You get the opportunity, while you’re still in an environment you’re comfortable with, to explore and question and actually get the hang of creating something,” said Balmer, the STAT Team member.
Dana Sumner, Meredith’s director of career planning, noted that experiential learning benefits students in many parts of their college careers.
“On-campus experiential learning opportunities allow students to better understand, develop, and use their interests and skills while implementing their talents and turning them into strengths,” Sumner said.
These learning experiences are a part of the comprehensive education that students get at Meredith, along with academic rigor, leadership opportunities, study abroad, campus publications, and other extracurricular activities such as athletics, dance, music, and theater.
Said Clymore of her work in the marketing department, “This opportunity and other ones my professors have connected me with are making me a more well-rounded student and applicant for the field I want to enter.”
These opportunities can also fulfill students in ways they may not have expected. Brodney found that her on-campus experiential learning work has helped her to make a difference.
“Even as a student, I am being given an opportunity to do something meaningful and impactful,” Brodney said. “My work with the autism program has become a source of strength for me.”