5 experiential learning opportunities to offer over winter break

As pressure rises for colleges to offer more experiential learning opportunities, more institutions have begun to offer these programs over winter break, Kathryn Masterson reports for the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The push for experiential learning comes from both students, who worry about their post-grad career prospects, and employers, who report widespread skills gaps. Research has found that employers tend to hire roughly 50% of their interns as full-time employees, and 80% of employers consider internships to be a recruiting tool.

Masterson rounds up five types of experiential learning opportunities colleges offer over winter break.

1: Study abroad

Davidson College offers grants for winter break travel to students who have not yet studied abroad or who need to travel for research projects. For example, one Davidson grant recipient studied in Morocco during winter break to conduct interviews that were necessary for her honors thesis, Masterson reports.

2: Service learning

Some institutions, such as Illinois State University, offer students alternative winter breaks during which they travel and complete service projects. For example, some Illinois State students plan to travel to Guatemala this year to help families build safer cooking stoves. Other students stay in the United States, including one group planning to visit Kansas to serve in a women's shelter.

3: Externships

Swarthmore College helps students use winter break to gain career experience. By the time they graduate, more than half of Swarthmore students have completed one or more externships through the college's decades-old program. During the week-long externship, students shadow employees, attend meetings, and visit different departments to learn more about the field. To secure placements, Swarthmore relies on its network of alumni and parents.

4: Group career exploration trips

Washington University in St. Louis organizes two-day "road shows" that introduce students to a particular industry in cities and regions around the United States. For the trips, up to 25 students and two staff members meet in the city, visit several different employers, and chat with local alumni in the field. The trips not only help students explore career options, but also help the university strengthen relationships with employers.

5: Group academic trips

Colby College offers a three-week "Jan Plan," during which students can participate in a variety of academic and career opportunities, such as traveling abroad with faculty members or completing independent research. For example, students can study ecology in Belize, take a class in meteorology taught by alumni, visit local museums, or shadow alumni in a short internship. Colby requires students to complete a Jan Plan for at least three of their four years, though most students do it every year. Colby officials say the program also helps students preserve their physical and mental health through the dark winters in Maine, where the college is located (Masterson, Chronicle of Higher Education, 11/26).

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