I’ve been known to evangelize about the power of experiential learning and its ability to transform students’ lives. I know this topic well because I’ve lived it. Way back in 1975 I stopped-out from Tufts University after a less-than-stellar freshman year. Luckily, when I returned a year later I met the faculty mentor who would change the course of my life, Dr. Jan Pechenik. He invited me into his marine biology lab, where I studied the larval form of adult slipper limpets, something few scientists were studying. The thought that I was creating knowledge was thrilling. None of this would have transpired without Dr. Pechenik taking the time to show me the possibilities of a scientific life. His belief in the power of undergraduate research helped me find my big dreams.
Indeed, experiential learning opportunities—internships, service learning, study abroad, undergraduate research, and the like—can have a profound impact on student learning outcomes and their future career success. It’s why I’m so proud of the work Provost Kimberly Andrews Espy and her team are doing on UTSA’s new Classroom to Career Initiative. Launched in September, this initiative is putting all the infrastructure into place to provide our students with real-world applications of their classroom learning. We have a big goal to go with this big idea. By 2028 we are aiming for 75% of UTSA students to have some form of experiential learning by the time they graduate.
We don’t have to look far to find outstanding examples of students who are cohering their academic studies and professional interests in phenomenal ways. Take, for example, Sanah Jivani, who was named a Truman Scholar in 2018 and a Fulbright semifinalist this year for her public service and leadership as CEO of the Love Your Natural Self Foundation. We had two accomplished Truman Scholar finalists this year, Maria Victoria Alonso and Jay’Len Boone, making UTSA one of only two Texas schools, with Rice University, to have more than one finalist for this national program.
Our National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellows are also terrific examples. The research that Travis Mark Kotzur, Lynée Massey, and Rebecca Revilla did as UTSA undergraduates resulted in competitive fellowships that will allow them to continue their research at the graduate level. We have so many more students at UTSA who are being recognized for their excellence inside and outside the classroom, including 17 Gilman Scholars, 23 Mellon Fellows, 88 Terry Scholars, and 36 Archer Fellows. All these prestigious programs are clear illustrations of the success that comes from blending classroom learning with career-engaged experiences.
The current of Sombrilla Magazine is packed with stories about the practical applications of experiential learning and how our students are helping to create life-changing possibilities for the people of San Antonio and beyond. With students like Sanah, Maria Victoria, Jay’Len, Lynée, Travis, and Rebecca as our leaders of tomorrow, our future is bright indeed.