Experiencing education

Experiencing education

Jun 19
Richard Vogen, Director, Planning and Research Development

I was reminded over the weekend how much people value their college days and experiences, especially for those whose blood runs deeply with hues of orange and blue. My wife and I attended a wedding near Peoria for a couple, Jessica and Jay, who were both relatively recent alumni of the University of Illinois and the College of ACES. Parents on both sides were also ACES alumni, as were a host of people in attendance. So there was no lack of Illini reminiscence at our table and many others around the room – some sharing memories from decades past and some from just the past decade.

I was also reminded that the bride had been a student not that long ago in one of our terrific experiential learning opportunities in the College of ACES. Jessica participated in the 2008 International Business Immersion Program that focused on Europe, and I just recently returned from Brazil with the 2012 IBIP class this past Memorial Day weekend. In contrast to basic classroom instruction or rote learning, learning from experience leads to a deeper appreciation for the context of subject matter and sometimes to “eureka” moments of insight. That’s what we try to do in the experiential education programs that form a key component for many of our curricula in ACES. I’ve had the privilege of being involved in several of the IBIP programs in recent years, most recently this year in Brazil.  Upon our return, I was impressed to receive messages from almost all of the students, with sentiments like these: “All in all, it truly was one of the greatest learning experiences of my life so far,”  “I had a wonderful time on the trip and really enjoyed learning all about Brazil and its companies,” or “I am leaving IBIP with much appreciation and knowledge of this industry, and I have IBIP to thank for this.”

Whether it’s immersing in the business cultures of some of the real participants in global agribusiness, participating in a local service learning opportunity, undertaking a capstone design project, or researching a novel question in a world-class laboratory, experience can indeed be the best teacher. Having that experience within a structured learning program often provides the best learning outcome of all, and it doesn’t hurt that Illinois students are noteworthy for their preparation, insightfulness, and professionalism. We hear that a lot from the people in the field who meet and interact with them. 

So I went back to see what Jessica said in 2008, which lends credence to these assertions. She said, “I feel that I grew professionally and now have a better understanding of the how the world works." Incidentally, the father of the groom also contributed mightily to another successful experiential learning program for ACES students in California this past March. So you might say that experiencing education is all in the family, the Illini family!