Experiential Educator Feature

Reginald Rogers

Associate Professor
University of Missouri - Columbia

What does experiential learning mean to you?

Experiential learning is all about translating the foundational knowledge gained in the classroom into practical understanding through real-world application. If students are always given the same rinse- and-repeat projects with no connection to industry, they will never develop the essential skills needed to truly succeed in our rapidly changing world. Students must face curveballs, react to undefined problems, and then reflect with the help of mentorship. The end result? Young professionals with a clearer sense of how to adapt and move forward beyond setbacks.

Why is experiential learning a priority for you?

It is an important step for developing one’s mindset in a given field that leads to inherent growth and new knowledge. As someone who came from industry at Procter & Gamble, I know firsth and that skills, especially the “soft skills” like verbal and written communication, cannot simply be learned but rather need to be practiced over time. I want my students to understand that they are not robots that simply regurgitate a solution based on what they saw on the board. They need to develop skills that show their adaptability to any setting even if it pushes them outside of their comfort zone. Sometimes the solution will be right in front of them and sometimes it will be off the beaten path – nonetheless students must learn the problem-solving process.

Can you give us an example of a successful experiential learning engagement that you've coordinated/delivered?

Typically I teach first and second year chemical engineering students. Given their novice mindset in the field, I typically develop scenarios where they are forced to “engineer” a solution using their foundational knowledge of chemical engineering. The students come to understand how basic engineering calculations translate into practical problem solving when the ideal solution is not so ideal. Also, when possible, I bring in colleagues from industry to further develop these case studies to accurately reflect real world scenarios.

What's the most challenging part of being an #ExperientialEducator? (coordinating/delivering an experiential learning curriculum to students)

Ensuring the experience has meaning and life-long impact. No two students are the same, and neither are any two classes. Therefore, educators must always be learning from the previous class in order to enhance the experience for the next group.

What skills do your students use when engaged in experiential learning?

The number one skill is engineering problem solving. This is a continuous work in progress for all of my students because there is no cookbook approach to developing this skill. They must learn the fundamental skills and use their intuition to derive a solution to a problem even when the pathway is not immediately evident. When the students are confronted with an unusual problem, whose answer is not clearly stated in the back of a textbook, the next step is to break the problem apart, figure out the knowns, and then tackle the unknowns with a toolkit of skills and knowledge.

This leads to another skill that students develop via experiential learning: “soft” skills. Technical skills like data analysis – although essential – often overshadow soft skills, such as communication, teamwork, and leadership. Students often lack these equally important soft skills, so I encourage the development of them as much as possible. As educators, we need to steer students away from the classic “data dump” and instead tell us: “What does the data mean? What can we learn from this? How can we apply this analysis further? What are the next steps?” – the keyword being “we.” Students must learn how to think, learn, and even struggle together. Without this collective mission to succeed, the collaborative working world will come as a major shock to them.

Overall, the students are able to gain a greater appreciation for what the “real world” beyond being a student holds for them.  By having this hands-on learning opportunity, the students develop themselves into more marketable engineers for companies.

What advice do you have for faculty and institutions considering experiential learning?

Take the plunge and be open-minded!  While it may seem daunting to execute an experiential learning environment, one cannot grow without facing the challenge. Given the current state of the world and higher education, educators need to adapt to the future in order to maintain the same quality of learning. This means a greater effort to excite students with engagements between industry and academia.

Paint a vision for what you want your students to gain from such an experience and then build up around that vision. You never know what can happen without some trial and error. The A+ students may struggle with the fear of “failure.” Life is not always fair, so as engineers all students need to be nimble as they dodge life’s curveballs.

For education to progress we have to take a moment of pause – put aside our biases – and do what is best for the students. If there is anything I have learned as an educator, it is to build strong relationships with your students, ask questions and actually LISTEN to the answers, and always strive to help them succeed!

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Reginald Rogers

Associate Professor
University of Missouri - Columbia
"For education to progress, educators need to take a moment of pause - put aside any biases - and do what is best for the students."
Dr. Reginald Rogers currently holds the position of Associate Professor in the Department of Biomedical, Biological, and Chemical Engineering at the University of Missouri. He is also an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering and Associate Professor (by courtesy) in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering. His research interests are focused on improved water resources using novel nanomaterials and advanced cathode materials for sodium-ion batteries. As an educator, Dr. Rogers has continuously integrated undergraduate students within his research efforts to broaden their perspectives on their potential roles on societal challenges as rising engineers. Whether the learning is in or out of the classroom, students are drawn into a unique learning environment, which Dr. Rogers creates to enhance their learning potential. He has integrated his industrial experience within his classes to challenge his students to think outside of the box when everything doesn’t follow a straightforward process. In addition to teaching, Dr. Rogers is passionate about mentoring the next generation of students and colleagues to ensure they are confident in their life goals.