Crystal Guillory, Assistant Dean at University of Houston-Downtown
From our interview with Crystal we learned …
Crystal Guillory’s enthusiasm for experiential learning is quite contagious. Before accepting her current role as Assistant Dean in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at University of Houston-Downtown, Crystal took on various educator roles and wore many hats as a counselor, friend, mentor, and sometimes even mother. A key stepping stone in her journey was joining the Upward Bound Program at the University of Houston-Downtown which serves underprivileged high school students who will be the first generation in their family to attend college. Before graduating from Temple University with a Masters in African American Studies, Crystal taught English to Southwest Philadelphia high school students in the Harcum College Upward Bound Program and quickly learned that each part of the country exists with a different reality. Currently, instead of doing the teaching, Crystal serves at the intersection of student and academic affairs in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Houston-Downtown – where she sits in meetings with university chairs and coordinators to talk about courses/internships that give students opportunities to apply their skills outside of the classroom. As a student advocate, she voices their concerns and takes action. It is a true pleasure for Crystal to advocate for students that cannot advocate for themselves. Outside of inspiring each student that crosses her path to be the best version of themselves by becoming agents of change, one of her main goals is to spread to her colleagues an educational world view about the power as administrators to serve in their student’s best interest. Crystal is furthering the growth of meaningful real-world learning as she serves on a committee that reviews the service-learning classes and awards mini-grants to support this work in the classroom and the community. It is very clear that Crystal cares deeply about her student’s success and takes full advantage of her available resources to do what she can as an academic and student affairs practitioner and experiential learning leader. Connect with Crystal!
Here is more Q&A with Crystal:
What does experiential learning mean to you?
The best thing to do in life is to find something that you love, which students can discover when they step into the real world and accept opportunities to make positive change. Only then can students collaborate with community partners to better serve our surrounding community.
Why is experiential learning a priority for you?
It gives students “real-life” experience and offers them opportunities to use the information they learned in class towards creating solutions in their communities.
Can you give us an example of a successful experiential learning engagement?
Students can take theory and apply it to any community, thereby solving everyday problems and making life better overall. For example, one of the projects our committee approved allowed a group of students to preserve a people’s history that is typically underrepresented. In this service project, students interviewed individuals in a nearby historically Latino area of Houston, recorded these long-lost stories, and transcribed them into children’s books that shared the challenges and perseverance that these people dealt with and embraced. This qualitative research clearly showed the effect of learning about history versus actually going out into the community and gathering these insights, the result being a more holistic view on the world for the next generation of leaders.
Why do you use and support experiential learning?
Because it is the most effective way of learning, it allows students to have an holistic understanding of how their education can impact the community, and it is an excellent tool towards retaining students.
How do your students benefit from experiential learning?
It increases their confidence as scholars and increases their agency about the positive impact they can personally make in their community, city, state, and world.
What’s the most challenging part of being an #ExperientialEducator?
Not having enough faculty to create service-learning courses.
What skills do your students use when engaged in experiential learning?
Regardless of the service-project, I see students first hand develop a strong ability to network, speak publicly, write professional proposals, remain organized, collaborate with others, and work within a team.
What advice do you have for faculty and institutions considering experiential learning?
This is the best learning tool to increase students’ understanding of the course material and it allows them to identify as problem-solvers.