Applied Learning Prepares Students Beyond the Book

With the speed of today’s modern economy, students need to be ensured that they are being prepared for it beyond their classroom studies. The world operates on a global level, with research and commercial efforts often spanning continents together. How do students prepare themselves for their success after graduation? By taking advantage of the opportunity to use and apply what they are learning in real-world settings as soon as, and ideally, as often as they can. This is the heart of what applied learning at SUNY is all about.

Applied learning is, in short, learning by doing. It is an educational approach through which students engage in direct work-place application of skills, theories, and models they learn about in school. With a half-million enrolled students, The State University of New York is presented with a unique opportunity, and responsibility, to create deep applied learning opportunities for each and every student and to foster meaningful and reciprocal opportunities and partnerships in our communities. Through these opportunities, students are able to apply knowledge and skills gdeveloped in traditional classroom learning to hands-on and real-world settings. This can include creative projects or research, problem-solving, management skills, and more.

The various types of activities under the umbrella of applied learning include but are not limited to internships, service learning, cooperative education, clinical education, undergraduate research experience, and student teaching. Not only can these opportunities enhance a student’s college experience, but they collectively have the potential to improve the social, economic, and political life in New York and beyond.

A key example of applied learning is the internship, and the benefit of internships is clear. According to a 2014 report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers reported on by US News & World Report, less than 40 percent of the graduates who received a job offer before graduation did not have any internship experience (or a cooperative work-study program). Internships allow students to learn in a professional setting. They are not applying knowledge and skills simply to get a grade, but rather with the intent to complete a needed, productive task.

Now, SUNY is helping to take applied learning to scale in more ways than one.

Welcome to the InternShop

InternShop is a new database developed through collaboration between SUNY and The Business Council of New York that matches students with meaningful paid internships in their field. Through InternShop, students create an account and fill out their information, and positions available in their field will be provided. Through spring 2016, this new tool will be available exclusively to SUNY students, followed by expansion to other schools and universities in New York State.

The connections are formed between the student and the business directly, but students may also be able to receive school credit from these internships by reaching out to a professor and registering their internship as a course at their school.

This system-wide partnership with The Business Council is a first of its kind relationship. As the largest organization in New York that represents interests for all firms throughout the state, The Business Council works to create policies and practices that support a healthy business climate, promote economic development, and further government reform—all benefits that are good for SUNY schools and graduates.

SUNY is committed to bringing applied learning to scale, at all of our 64 campuses. Chancellor Zimpher formally announced the InternShop database at her 2016 State of the University Address, saying “We know that there is simply no better way to learn than by doing, which is why SUNY is committed to offering every student an applied learning opportunity as part of our completion agenda.”

Models of Success for All Students

InternShop may be just the beginning. In keeping with the push to increase applied learning opportunities for all students, SUNY Potsdam recently opened the first-ever dedicated Center for Applied Learning. The center will bring together the offices of experiential education, international education and student research, in a “one stop shop” at the heart of campus, with a clear mission: Make sure every student has the opportunity to complete one or more high-impact learning experiences before they graduate.

At the Center’s ribbon-cutting ceremony it was announced that Potsdam was awarded $750,000 to support the new center from the SUNY Investment and Performance Fund, which will allow the College to develop models of success for applied learning that can be replicated at other campuses throughout the system.

Cindy, an anthropology major at Potsdam, has experienced the benefits of applied learning in many forms. She spent a year studying abroad in Brazil, worked on a research team in partnership with the nearby Fort Drum U.S. Army base, and thanks to SUNY Potsdam’s “Living the Map” program, she got to try five jobs in five weeks in five different locations last summer. “I have learned a lot of skills, all of which I can use tomorrow. But most important is the sense of self-reliance,” Cindy said. “You learn not to restrict yourself.”

Being able to offer opportunities like this is a game changer in higher education in general, and SUNY in particular.