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Spring 2011 - Engaged Learning

Dear  Providence College Parents:

Engaged learning—a term increasingly heard in higher education—refers to the various opportunities beyond traditional classroom studies that enhance a student’s educational experience. Earlier this semester, some 1000 Providence College parents and students attended a panel discussion during our Freshman Family Weekend at which campus leaders highlighted recent engaged learning opportunities, including collaborative research with faculty mentors, internships, service learning, immersion experiences, and study abroad.

Engaged learning reinforces classroom lectures and readings as students apply their book knowledge to real-world challenges. This helps our students to better learn and remember course content while developing critical thinking, communications, and leadership skills. One of the College’s strategic priorities is to provide sufficient opportunities to ensure that every student participates in at least one engaged learning experience as an undergraduate.

Providence College facilitates this engaged learning in many ways. In 2009, we received a three-year, $250,000 grant from the Davis Educational Foundation to foster a culture of student engagement through “mini-grants” to faculty. One such grant funded psychology students who spent a week of volunteer service and study on a Lakota Native American reservation. In another funded project—for an interdisciplinary course in marketing, art, and philanthropy—marketing and photography students captured the experiences and images of breast cancer survivors. The resulting photo exhibition and silent auction benefitted a regional breast cancer research and support foundation.

Through its Undergraduate Research Grant Program, Providence College also offers competitive grants to students working under the guidance of a faculty mentor in research-focused courses. To date, students from eight diverse disciplines have benefitted from awards to support their research expenses.

For students in the laboratory sciences, engaged learning through student-faculty research collaboration, field study, and experiments outside the classroom has been a longstanding practice. Last year, some 50 students were engaged in such research projects, often presenting their findings in poster presentations on campus and at regional, national, and even international scientific conferences. Some of them even co-authored published papers with their faculty mentors. Our goal is to make such research experiences a hallmark of education at Providence College.

Another aspect of engaged learning takes place beyond the PC campus. Today’s generation of college students are being called the “First Globals,” with studies indicating that 40% of students plan to live, study, or work abroad at some time in their lives. This is why we encourage students to participate in study abroad programs offered by our Center for International Studies. And, next fall, Providence College will have its own presence in Rome—a Center for Theology and Religious Studies established in collaboration with Cultural Experiences Abroad Global Education.

“Study abroad with a conscience” describes other short-term, cultural immersion experiences that feature volunteer community service. For example, the five most recent recipients of the Father Philip A. Smith, O.P. Student Fellowships for Study and Service Abroad spent from six to eight weeks last summer in research and service activities in countries on four continents. They then shared their experiences through campus presentations this fall.

Closer to home, PC students are engaged in career-focused internships and job shadowing coordinated through the Office of Career Services and in service-learning programs facilitated by the Feinstein Institute for Public Service and the Office of Mission and Ministry.

Engaged learning enriches the College experience for our students, transforming them on every level. Students learn more, grow in responsibility and maturity, and expand their horizons through these many and varied opportunities. Their efforts also add an exceptional credential to their resumes and graduate school applications.

Over the next few years, the College will continue to expand engaged learning options. I ask you to encourage your son or daughter to take full advantage of these exciting opportunities at Providence College. The time and effort they expend in beyond-the-classroom activities will pay rich dividends now and in the future.

Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P.

Catholic and Dominican

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