Experiential Educator Feature

JoAnne Ferrara

Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs and Professor
Manhattanville College

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 that you've coordinated/delivered?

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 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? (coordinating/delivering an experiential learning curriculum to students)

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.

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JoAnne Ferrara

Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs and Professor
Manhattanville College
"It allows students to have a holistic understanding of how education can impact their community."
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.