Experiential Educator Feature

Tricia Davies

Adjunct Associate Professor
Columbia University

What does experiential learning mean to you?

Experiential learning is the practice of applying theories and academic learning to lived experiences.  It is also the result of work experiences that one has reflected on and learned from in a critical way. Combining practical work experiences that include all their nuanced challenges within a context for learning that you can’t get in a classroom alone.

Why is experiential learning a priority for you?

It’s a priority when I’m looking to hire someone who can demonstrate not only their technical skills but also their knowledge and familiarity in the industry or environment of my clients.  It also provides exposure to students in fields or industries that they may not have otherwise considered in their careers. In short, experiential learning is a major stepping stone in career development.

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

Several years ago I was the faculty advisor for a Capstone team at Columbia’s School of International & Public Affairs (Capstones have been a requirement of their MPA degree for at least 20 years).  The team was tasked by the NYC Mayor’s office to assess the utility of New York City’s open data platform for citizens. The students’ findings were included in the Mayor’s annual status review of the open data initiative and the report was published through local government news outlets. One of the students went on to accept a job with the Mayor’s Office.

Why do you use experiential learning?

As a strategy consultant, it’s important that my team (students or staff) learn from prior experiences and be able to translate those hands-on experiences into tactics and solutions that can refined and replicated.

How do your students benefit from experiential learning?

Students benefit through exposure to industry employers as well as through the experience of applying their classroom learning to real-life challenges.

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

There are a lot of challenges. The biggest I think is managing expectations of the major stakeholders:  the students, the academic office and the company (client).

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

My students have participated in group Capstone projects on behalf of a company (or government office). Students learn time management and delegation above all.

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

One piece of advice is to involve the faculty advisor ( and possibly the students) in negotiating the project scope of work early on.

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Tricia Davies

Adjunct Associate Professor
Columbia University
"Students benefit through exposure to industry employers as well as through the experience of applying their classroom learning to real-life challenges."
Tricia combines twenty years' of strategic planning, financial management and policy research with her commitment to improving social outcomes. She has advised government policy makers, executive leaders, national nonprofits, international NGOs and local community-based organizations. Prior to founding The Public Good she was a Manager in KPMG’s Public Sector practice focused on public revenue maximization. She’s implemented services in NYC's homeless care system, has served as a public school treasurer, board member and advocate for parent engagement, socioeconomic diversity and access to opportunities in under-resourced schools. Tricia earned a BA with Honors from Rutgers University and an MPA with a focus on advanced policy analysis from the School of International & Public Affairs at Columbia University where she is an Adjunct Associate Professor.