Experiential learning enables students to try career on for size

Presentation to regents: Business, university communities benefit from collaborations

University of Colorado Experiential Learning Internships give CU students a chance to learn about a career field from the inside, apply what they’ve learned in the classroom, develop skills and gain exposure to real world problems and issues.

During a presentation to the Board of Regents at its meeting Wednesday, Samantha Kobbe, an economics major with a minor in political science at CU-Boulder, described her internships, which ranged from working with Rep. Jared Polis to the National Conference of the State Legislature, even learning the “ins and outs” of the coroner system in Kansas.

“I learned how to write coherently. I learned how to speak over the phone to legislators . . . it was a lot of great experiences you don’t get in the classroom,” she said. Kobbe, a junior who will graduate in spring 2012, hopes to apply to law school. “It was a great experience: on how your future is going to look and to be able to do actual legal research.”

The presentation at the meeting at CU-Boulder was in response to a panel discussion at the regents’ retreat in July, at which business leaders offered suggestions on how CU can better engage with its communities.

“We find internships particularly helpful,” said Lisa Severy, director of career services at CU-Boulder. “There’s nothing better than having a student try on a career for size. There are many times when students find out ‘this is not what I want to do.’ That’s just as important as a student who has found what they want to do the rest of their lives.”

The programs, of which nearly 2,000 CU students have taken part the past year, help students establish professional work habits, obtain work-related references, strengthen their resumes and open doors to job opportunities.

  • CU-Boulder: averaged 1,059 students each year the past five years in 34 academic units and more than 9,800 employers in the database.
  • UCCS: currently has 250 students registered for internship credit and 50 for non-credit.
  • CU Denver: has 471 intern placements and 771 new internships posted in 2010-11 fall and spring semesters.

Experiential learning includes internships and co-ops, service learning, study abroad and research and laboratory experiences.

Institutions that take advantage of the university’s student skill-set, education and knowledge include the Air Force Academy, the Smithsonian, Google, Lockheed Martin, Children’s Hospital Colorado and hundreds of others.

The CU Board of Regents can play an important role in promoting and establishing new venues for experiential learning, presenters said. “Given your various professions, background and the communities you work with, any advice and contacts would be welcome,” said Kathleen Bollard, vice president for academic affairs.

Rod Nairn, provost at CU Denver, asked the board to help promote the importance and new possibilities for experiential learning. “The board can help in its role for advocacy, but also to help us continue to get more businesses, more opportunities to get more and different options on the table.”