Students have a lot on their plate, and when it comes to an academic discipline such as an engineering major, there is much more to deal with. Academics is the most crucial part of an engineering curriculum, and performing well is essential for all students in order to build the necessary skills required for future workplace settings. A student can cherish the years at college and turn the theoretical knowledge gained in classrooms into workplace skills only through involvement in experiential learning activities. Experiential learning activities are opportunities whereby students are engaged through hands-on experiences and periodic reflections that allow them to apply the knowledge they have gained in a practical approach against real world situations. It is a style of learning where students ‘learn by doing’.
Virginia Tech is a fine engineering institution, but what makes it so is the blend of experiential learning activities offered along with the academic curriculum it hosts. Virginia Tech has a website in place that is dedicated specifically to Experiential Learning and opportunities related to it that are available for students. Undergraduate Research is one of such numerous opportunities that a student can pursue. Undergraduate Research is a scholarly investigation of a topic done with supervision and mentorship of a faculty member or a researcher where the undergraduate student helps generate findings related to the topic. Numerous faculty members across engineering disciplines have some sort of research being carried out. Undergraduate Research can be pursued as a volunteer or wage positions, or for credit hours, depending on the options that the researcher is willing to offer. The Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) helps expand research opportunities at Virginia Tech. Any queries related to Undergraduate Research at Virginia Tech can be directed to OUR. They have a variety of opportunities to take part in research, both during the academic year as well as the summer break. They also host workshops and research conferences, and provide scholarships and fellowships for the purpose of research.
Study Abroad is another unique opportunity that students can partake in. Study Abroad, as the name implies, is an opportunity for students to visit a foreign country for the purpose of completing courses in one of the institutions of that country. Students on a study abroad trip visit the country with a faculty member, attend lectures at an institution and complete all academic requirements necessary to receive credit for that course. The Global Education Office is the primary resource for Virginia Tech students to seek information and opportunities regarding Study Abroad programs.
Service Learning is another form of experiential learning where students put their classroom knowledge into practice in the community, in a way that benefits the community as well as helps them to gain a deeper and more practical understanding of the concept that they have learned. Students work through a mix of action and reflection and put their skills to test. This helps students to understand the ways they might be using their knowledge in the future for the betterment of the community. Also, it is a relatively easier way to transform classroom knowledge into a practical experience and bolster skills in that very field. VT Engage: The Center for Leadership & Service Learning looks after opportunities related to service learning, leadership education, and civic engagement at Virginia Tech.
Internships are the most popular and sought after experiential learning opportunities among college students, especially in the field of engineering, as it prepares students for full-time careers post graduation. As an intern, students typically work around 10 to 12 weeks at a company. It is a great way to see whether that particular company is a fit and whether the nature of work they do is what the student would be interested to work on in the future. Cooperative Education, better known as co-ops, are experiences similar to internships, with the only difference being that they are more extensive than internships. Because of a longer program duration, co-ops are designed in a manner that helps students practice their skills in the workplace as well as understand whether the work that they are doing aligns with their career aspirations. Co-ops are also a great way to secure a full time position in the company after graduation. The Career and Professional Development at Virginia Tech is a great resource for seeking information and opportunities regarding internships. They also have their own internship program that places students as interns in different departments within Virginia Tech. Moreover, they have many resources dedicated to Virginia Tech students that help them find and apply to internships in the industry. Virginia Tech also makes use of Handshake, which is another great resource as recruiters post jobs and internships over Handshake, where a lot of recruiters are specifically looking for Hokies.
There are some additional experiential learning opportunities such as competitions, hackathons, and coding challenges. In general, these are opportunities that come throughout the academic year and can be partaken in for a very brief period of time. Such competitions are also great ways to apply the knowledge gained in classrooms, and is an opportunity to challenge oneself to solve problems and develop an innovative idea or solution. These are also opportunities where students can work in teams and build essential teamwork skills that are important in future workplace settings.
All in all, experiential learning is an integral part of a student’s academic career, especially when discussing an engineering curriculum. Experiential learning can place students who pursue such activities ahead of other students who only take care of their academics during important processes such as a job hunt. Those students who partake in experiential learning during college can bolster skills and classroom learning, can retain academic knowledge, and can build soft skills that one may require in professional and social settings. Therefore, a student should make a conscious effort towards finding and joining such experiential learning activities, not just as a mode of learning but also as a mode of enjoying one’s academic and college life.