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Virginia Tech News / Articles / 2018 / March 

New conference to showcase ways real-world learning transforms students

March 14, 2018

Habitat students
Virginia Tech students help to build a house with Habitat for Humanity.

Building a greenhouse for a nonprofit farm in Hawaii brought construction and engineering to life for Virginia Tech student Annie Skorulski.

“It really just helped on a smaller scale to show me what I was learning in class and how it can really happen in the real world,” said Skorulski, who is majoring in construction and engineering management.

Likewise, Andrew Fuller, a professional technical writing major, helped with proposal support while interning at a company called General Dynamics.

“In terms of my full-time career path, it definitely helped shape that,” he said.

Skorulski and Fuller are examples of students who found ways to explore their academic majors outside of the classroom, activities otherwise known as experiential learning. Their stories appear in a video to promote the first XL-Student Experiential Learning Conference for undergraduate students at Virginia Tech.

The conference, hosted by the Office of Undergraduate Academic Affairs, will be held on April 13 in the Moss Arts Center and Squires Student Center.

During the day-long event, students will present posters showcasing their internships, study abroad trips, research, service projects, and more. Some also will speak for panel discussions on various topics, such as the logistics of studying abroad.

“The conference is a showcase of transformative experiential learning already happening across campus,” said Jill Sible, who is associate vice provost for undergraduate education at Virginia Tech.

Alley and Jack Dufour, Virginia Tech alumni and founders of Taaluma Totes, are the conference’s keynote speakers. Five years ago, they created a company that sells tote bags made of fabric from different parts of the world. About 20 percent of the proceeds from each tote sale goes back to the country where the fabric originated as a microloan.

The conference will highlight ways that individual Virginia Tech students have been transformed  by real-world learning, outside of the traditional classroom, that relates with their majors. It’s also meant to encourage other Hokies to take advantage of a wide variety of hands-on education programs offered by the university and to share information about how to get involved.

The conference, which coincides with Virginia Tech’s Spring Family Weekend (April 13-15), also is an event where families can learn more about what the university offers for students.

“Overall, we want there to be a better understanding of what experiential learning is and how students can participate in high-impact experiences,” said James Harder, who is co-chair of the conference committee and project research specialist for undergraduate studies at Virginia Tech. “We want students to see experiential learning as a way to enhance their conceptual understandings and apply knowledge.”

Four Virginia Tech students who became University Innovation Fellows last year are helping with the conference as part of their own efforts to promote experiential learning. In the fall, they proposed creating a virtual and physical campus hub for all students to learn more about the real-world learning programs offered by Virginia Tech. Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design runs this fellows program, which advocates for college students to devise innovation, entrepreneurship, and design projects at their institutions.

All students must apply to be a presenter at the experiential learning conference. The application deadline is March 18. Learn more here.

Written by Jenny Kincaid Boone

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