Learning by Doing

This past Thursday, the University of Rhode Island celebrated the creation of the Office of Experiential Learning and Community Engagement. It was a special moment for URI because it highlighted the vision, dedication, and work of many talented individuals among the faculty, staff, and administration of the university. Further, the day represented the interests and accomplishments of generations of URI students, who have consistently understood the enormous value of participating in research, scholarship, internships, and community service. An admirable cross-section of the URI community turned out, and we were joined by Governor Lincoln Chafee and Senator Dawson Tucker Hodgson.

Each of our speakers – Governor Chafee, Dean Jayne Richmond, Provost Don DeHayes, Jay Petrella (Vice President for Human Resources, Citizens Bank), Dr. Roger LeBrun (Professor, College of the Environment and Life Sciences), Jason Allard (a URI student majoring in psychology) and Kim Washor (Director of the Office of Experiential Learning and Community Engagement) – addressed the substantial advantages of “hands-on” learning.

Importantly, these advantages do not accrue solely to the students, but also to the companies, non-profit organizations, or communities that provides the opportunities for students to be engaged. Indeed, one of the most important contributions provided by research universities to the well being and economic development of the nation is the talent and energy of our students. Students from the University of Rhode Island long have been, and continue to be, involved throughout the state. Our faculty are frequently involved as well.

The Office of Experiential Learning and Community Engagement will serve as the central portal for students, faculty, businesses, and community organizations. The Office will help catalyze the continued growth of experiential learning at the University of Rhode Island. It will facilitate the increasing engagement of the university with the people, businesses, and communities of the state, and even beyond Rhode Island’s borders.

The engagement of undergraduates in research, scholarship, creative work, experiential learning and service learning are integral parts of the University of Rhode Island’s Academic Strategic Plan. And that is as it should be. Why? Because the learning opportunities created by such engagement cannot be replicated in our classrooms and web-based learning environments. Our role is to prepare students to help solve the global challenges of the 21st century and to prepare them for jobs and careers that do not even yet exist. The skills, expertise, and adaptability required for success can best be gained by confronting problems that have not been solved, by attempting to do, or create, things that are new, and by pursuing fresh solutions to society’s problems. Together with the faculty and our partners, this is what the Office of Experiential Learning and Community Engagement seeks to accomplish.