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Experiential Learning at UD

Karen Lovett wins national honor for excellence in experiential learning

Karen Velasquez Lovett, director of the University’s Office of Experiential Learning, will be honored by a national organization Sept. 27 for her leadership in advancing experiential learning at UD.

Lovett will receive the 2022 Outstanding Leader in Experiential Education: Higher Education award from the National Society for Experiential Education during the organization’s annual conference in Salt Lake City. The award recognizes leaders in higher education who demonstrate innovative approaches to experiential learning at their institutions.

“I think our office has tried to take a very holistic view of what experiential learning can be,” Lovett said. “We’re not saying experiential learning only consists of internships or student employment, but rather, a multitude of different experiences.”

When Lovett was hired in 2016, she developed workshops to engage students in reflection on their experiential learning experiences and help them incorporate experiential learning opportunities into their educational experience. During the early days of the pandemic when instruction was virtual, she transformed the effort into a virtual, asynchronous process in partnership with AVIATE that garnered participation from close to 2,500 students.

The office’s Experiential Learning Major Maps initiative helps students connect to potential opportunities in their academic field and plot their progress at UD and after graduation. Career Services and academic departments help the process by adding existing student experiences to the maps so students can be aware of what’s possible as they prepare for the job market. Lovett said the maps also are helpful for first-year students who haven’t declared a major to get a better idea of what they might pursue in the future.

The office also helped promote research and scholarship related to experiential learning, which coincides with an emphasis on experiential learning in the University’s new promotion and tenure policy. The new emphasis gives faculty greater incentive to encourage experiential learning program development as part of their coursework.

Lovett has edited and published texts featuring contributions from UD faculty, staff and students about their experiences teaching or participating in experiential learning opportunities. The first, Diverse Pedagogical Approaches to Experiential Learning, was released in 2020, and the second edition in 2022 explores additional themes, including cross-cultural opportunities and challenges from the global pandemic. Lovett also served as an editor with English professor Steve Wilhoit on Engaging with Vocation on Campus, a text with a section on how UD encourages vocational development through experiential learning.

Future plans include continued support for the development of more department-specific projects and programs through initiatives such as the Experiential Learning Innovation Fund for Faculty, a mini-grant program that has awarded more than 90 experiential learning projects since 2017. The office also is collaborating with Humanities Commons faculty and partners at The Hub Powered by PNC Bank in downtown Dayton to develop a mini-course next spring that combines community-engaged learning, vocational discernment, micro-credentialing and career development through the lens of the humanities. The course was made possible by a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

“Experiential learning could be project-based learning, it could be co-ops, it could be global experiences. The field at large is faced with the challenge of connecting dots across different types of experiences and making experiential learning a collaborative- and community-oriented process rather than a siloed one.”

To learn more about experiential learning at UD, view the office’s experiential learning catalog.

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