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150 Years of Experiential Learning

Tuesday, January 7, 2020
student group poses in front of Alamo

from left to right: Kate Nuelle ’21, Peyton Tvrdy ’21, Jonathan Chapman ’20, and KaDarius Lee ’19

Faculty, staff, and students research Trinity’s history of hands-on learning

by Margaret Miller

Though the term “experiential learning” wasn’t coined until the 2000s, Trinity students have been doing it for more than a century. One hundred fifty years ago, Trinity began redefining the liberal arts, giving students the opportunity for hands-on learning inside—and outside—the classroom.

In recognition of the University’s 150th Anniversary, a team of faculty, staff, and students explored this rich history. The research project, titled “150 Years of Experiential Education at Trinity University: Context, Perspective, and Implementation” was funded by the Mellon Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship in the Arts and Humanities.

Like experiential learning at Trinity, the public history project took an interdisciplinary approach. The four student researchers represented a range of interests and majors: Peyton Tvrdy ’21 (history and classics); Jonathan Chapman ’20 (history and French); KaDarius Lee ’19 (marketing); and Kate Nuelle ’21 (art and art history). Mentoring the students were history professor Lauren Turek, Ph.D.; former assistant director of Experiential Learning Erin Hood ’03, Ph.D., and Robert Scherer, Ph.D., dean of the School of Business.

For 10 weeks, with the help of University archivist Jes Neal, the students collaborated to research and document the history of Trinity’s commitment to experiential learning. The students then curated the content and constructed a physical exhibit that was displayed at Trinity’s Undergraduate Research and Internship Symposium in July 2019, as well as a digital database of the oral history interviews.

The students discovered many experiential learning projects that transpired during Trinity’s early years, including military science, solar, and aviation programs, and a home economics project that lasted from the 1920s until the 1960s, where students practiced cooking and sewing in a cottage that served as an on-campus lab. Over time, they found, experiential learning has grown and flourished to an institution-wide practice that students participate in through all genres and departments, from STEM and humanities to internships, business, and international studies.

The results exceeded Turek’s expectations. “Trinity students never fail to impress me and go beyond what I anticipate they can do,” she says. “This project was huge, and there were moments when I wondered whether we would get everything done on time. But the team was fantastic. It’s a reminder that Trinity students are remarkable—and if you set the bar high, they will meet it.”

Explore the team’s public history project online at 150years.omeka.net.