Experiential Learning for All: Equity in EL

Thursday, October 15, 2020

By now you’ve probably heard the news:  yes, it’s true that every undergraduate student at UGA must complete at least one approved experiential learning activity or course before they graduate. It’s also true that this prospect may look very different for each student--both in what that activity is, but also in how accessible that activity is to accomplish. Now, I’m not talking about failing a course--we know all Dawgs are brilliant! What we’re talking about here is EQUITY. Equity is defined as “something that is fair and just”[1] something that is available to all.

Ali Elayman working in Campus KitchenAll students face different challenges that may affect the ease with which they move through their university careers. An out-of-classroom experience might be viewed differently by a student athlete, a single parent, a student with disabilities, a veteran, or a student that has a full ride and plentiful funding. In the Office of University Experiential Learning, we believe that experiences outside the classroom are part of a powerful learning cycle that expands, stretches and enhances academic foundations to create a whole new level of awareness and understanding, and that this opportunity must be available to ALL students. 

Our goal as a university initiative is to offer a wide range of opportunities so that all students can find something that suits their situation and nurtures their aspirations. Ideally, students will gain knowledge and experience in an activity that allows them to step outside of their comfort zone and embrace new challenges. For instance, a student with high anxiety about traveling abroad may first want to try a domestic field study or the Virtual Oxford Research program. These experiences may then open doors for that student to step into studying internationally.

To date, the University of Georgia has approved more than 2000 courses and non-credit activities for experiential learning. Many of our schools and colleges have adopted blanket statements encompassing, for example, all service-learning courses, all R-suffix research courses, and all study abroad and field study programs. Approved activities include volunteer opportunities at organizations like Campus Kitchen and Extra Special People, but also paid positions such as on-campus internships and Resident Assistant jobs. Many of our majors require an experiential learning course (research, internships, or a final creative capstone/thesis show) that will satisfy the requirement. All of these experiences make our students stronger during their time at UGA and more competitive and capable after they embark through the Arch.

We recognize that some activities may present a significant financial burden that could prevent accessibility. In an effort to allow a greater number of individuals to participate, our office awards scholarships in amounts up to $2,500 for students participating in any UGA-approved experiential learning course or activity. Find more information on eligibility and deadlines here.

“Experiential education has value far beyond building the kind of social skills, work ethic, and practical expertise that are important in professionally oriented programs. In fact, experiential education can also lead to more powerful academic learning and help students achieve intellectual goals commonly associated with liberal education, including

  • a deeper understanding of subject matter than is possible through classroom study alone;
  • the capacity for critical thinking and application of knowledge in complex or ambiguous situations;
  • the ability to engage in lifelong learning, including learning in the workplace."[2]

At UGA, we want all of our students to learn to thrive. We recognize that equity of opportunity plays a significant role, and we hope to continue to build and discover programs to create more possibilities for all students to build their futures and change their worlds through experiential learning.

Kay S. Stanton is the Senior Coordinator of Experiential Learning Programs at the University of Georgia. Among other things, she works regularly with students, faculty, and staff to find and create experiential learning opportunities for undergraduate students.  Learn more at UGA Experiential Learning. Kay can be contacted at okay@uga.edu.

[1]Dictionary.com (2020)

[2] Eyler, Janet. (2009). The Power of Experiential Education.  Liberal Education, Vool. 95. No. 4