Delivering a one-of-a-kind education

Experiential learning, or learning through experience, is not exclusive to our campus. Colleges and universities from across the country aim to take education beyond the classroom. However, a heavy investment in EL paired with a drive to become the University for the Common Good morphs the concept into something much more impactful at the University of Dayton.

A Greater Focus on EL

This unprecedented commitment to EL starts with the newly created Office of Experiential Learning, headed by the University’s first director of experiential learning, Karen Velasquez, Ph.D. In her second academic year, Velasquez has hit her stride, working with an EL advisory council and two faculty fellows to deepen and more readily facilitate EL opportunities and to help students and faculty understand the true nature of EL.

“Experiential learning is about the student engaging in self-guided exploration, as well as how they make sense of the experience and relate it back to their class, major and professional goals.”

“Experiential learning is about the student engaging in self-guided exploration, as well as how they make sense of the experience and relate it back to their class, major and professional goals. It’s helping them make those connections,” Velasquez explained. “And beyond that, it’s taking the values of the University — an awareness of the common good, a desire to find one’s vocation — and weaving them into the experience for students.”

Over 340 alumni and friends have recognized the necessity of such learning experiences and added to the University’s investment, providing more than $200,000 in support to the Fund for Experiential Learning. Among them are Bill and Marilyn ’97 Humes. As a student, Marilyn experienced EL firsthand, helping manage $100,000 of University investments in the early years of what’s now known as the Davis Center for Portfolio Management.

“That experience is something Marilyn’s talked about ever since I met her,” Bill said. “Obviously it had an impact on her.” Now they have made sure that today’s students can have similar experiences — students like Abby Lisjak ’18 and Joshua Romo ’19.

Making an Impact Near and Far

Working toward a degree in mechanical engineering, with a minor in human rights, Lisjak is one of 55 students who have contributed to the Lincoln Hill Gardens project in Dayton’s Twin Towers neighborhood. A collaboration between the Hanley Sustainability Institute, Mission of Mary Cooperative and East End Community Services, the project is converting a one-time Dayton public school site into a community space with an urban garden, a nature playscape and a gathering space. Lisjak spent the summer designing the nature playscape, a play area that incorporates natural elements.

“...this experience has allowed me to better understand what I learned in the classroom because I am able to apply it rather than just hearing about it and imagining it.”

“Projects like this are really important because it allows us to engage in the community and put stake in the area around the University,” Lisjak said. “And this experience has allowed me to better understand what I learned in the classroom because I am able to apply it rather than just hearing about it and imagining it.”

Romo’s EL experience began a world away from Lisjak’s in Bihar, India. As a chemical engineering major, he is one of seven students currently contributing to the award-winning Solar-Thermal Adsorptive Refrigerator (STAR) project, which focuses on providing nonelectric refrigeration for medications and vaccines in areas that lack access to reliable electricity, such as Bihar.

“What I’ve learned is that the real-world process goes beyond engineering,” Romo explained. “As you go into valuing different factors in your design process, you have to take into account what’s acceptable in the culture and how to connect with different faith traditions. It really broadens your scope and helps you realize how you can use engineering to help the world.”

Thanks to the support of our Flyer community, students are able to explore more and more learning experiences that are uniquely UD — deepening their knowledge and furthering our goal to become the University for the Common Good.

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