Bypass Reality TV for Reality Learning: Internships, Co-Op Education and Other Experiential Learning Programs

By Parker, Linda Bates | Diversity Employers, February 2006 | Go to article overview

Bypass Reality TV for Reality Learning: Internships, Co-Op Education and Other Experiential Learning Programs


Parker, Linda Bates, Diversity Employers


Employers recruiting today's college graduates have high expectations that they will interview graduating students who have gained "real-world" experiences and stellar academic credentials while in college. Unfortunately, far too many students are either focused exclusively on their academics or are too distracted by things like reality TV to invest time in "reality learning" while in college.

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Colleges and universities in the United States and abroad now offer a variety of alternative learning experiences through which students can enhance their academic coursework. By working, traveling or volunteering in organizations with the goals of observing and learning from their experiences, students are discovering real-world challenges and figuring out how they might make a contribution. At my university, these experiences are termed "Reality Learning" and include numerous on- and off-campus opportunities such as:

Cooperative Education (Co-op) -- an educational program in which students work, usually in full-time paid positions, in their majors. They rotate between college classes and jobs over several cycles during their college careers. Co-op gives students excellent and continual professional experience while they earn academic credit. Relatively new international co-op programs provide exciting opportunities for students to learn a second language and gain international experience through an overseas co-op assignment. The University of Cincinnati is one of the few universities in the United States offering such a program.

Internships -- similar to co-op, these work experiences also let students gain professional experiences related to their majors or career interests while in college. These off-campus assignments are determined by employers, and help students to apply theories learned in the classroom to the workplace while acquiring better understanding of the professional requirements of particular career fields. Many internships are created by businesses or organizations to improve their recruiting pipeline by preparing college students for full-time employment within their organizations upon graduation.

Service Learning -- reflective educational experiences in which students earn academic credit by participating in meaningful service activities, on- or off-campus. Service-learning experiences are designed to foster deeper understanding of course content and an enhanced sense of civic responsibility, while doing important work on pressing community needs. National organizations such as "Campus Compact," representing a coalition of more than 950 colleges and universities and some 5 million students, are dedicated to promoting community service, civic engagement, and service-learning in higher education.

Community Service -- opportunities for students to "give back" to their communities by committing time, energy and resources to a civic cause or non-profit organization for the sole purpose of improving the quality of life for others. Through community service, students may get involved in important civic work and tough social issues in churches or organizations that may have no direct link to their colleges but offer life-broadening experiences.

Global Studies -- academic programs that help college students live, study and travel abroad, often immersing themselves in another culture and a second language. These students gain extraordinary international and cross-cultural experience, as well as academic credit. With overseas study as part of their curriculum, students understand their responsibilities as American and world citizens while making life-long connections with people around the world.

Practicum -- a college course, especially one in a specialized field of study, that is designed to give students supervised, practical application of previously studied theory to prepare them for professional work in areas that frequently require an advanced degree. …

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