Learning Beyond the Classroom …

17 December 2015

Christopher Griffin ’17… FAR …

Between shoes and hypothalamic peptides, Tintin comic art and French economic policy, seven students from the Paris Off-Campus Studies Internship program had perhaps the most intensive learning experience of their college careers. And it wasn’t sitting in a classroom.

Part study abroad, part internship, this pilot program offered students enrolled in the French Studies in Paris course the chance to remain in France past spring term to work as interns in fields connected to their interests. For Danae Bowen ’17, that meant medical research at Le Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherché Médicale. For Christopher Griffin ’17, it meant learning the art of sales and shoemaking at a Crockett & Jones Paris boutique.

“It was like a playground for me,” says Griffin, who’s been fascinated with footwear since his first job—shining his father’s shoes.

The playground, though, was at times fierce. Coupled with the demands of the job came the challenge of speaking a foreign language all day long.

“It was mentally exhausting,” Jeremy Keane ’17 says. “The vocabulary on the job was a whole new set of words; textbook French is different from everyday French. But it all really helped me improve.”

Along with the immersive language experience came other lessons. Griffin, for example, says he gained more compassion for foreigners living away from home. Keane, working with a French government think tank, gained perspective on the Greek financial crisis and the Syrian immigrant crisis. Bowen learned how to treat her classes like a job and better organize her academic efforts.

Bowen also got a crash course in rodent anatomy. “I wasn’t expecting to do research so early,” Bowen says. “The best surprise ever was when they gave me an internship in medicine. I started out observing, and by the end, I was removing tumors from mice.”

Anita Chikkatur… AND NEAR

This type of learning—outside of books and boxes—is steadily growing at home, too. While the internship abroad program is fledgling, projects in the community are numerous and spreading rapidly.

“Carleton sees the value in these kinds of experiences beyond the classroom,” says physics and astronomy chair Melissa Eblen-Zayas. “It’s really about going deeper so you can engage with what makes the liberal arts experience different and more valuable.”

Eblen-Zayas is a strong advocate for academic civic engagement at Carleton, which encompasses a broad spectrum of community-based learning with ties to Carleton courses. She takes a special interest in projects that will require her students to problem solve with real-world constraints.

With the help of the Center for Community and Civic Engagement, Eblen-Zayas partnered with the Northfield Environmental Quality Commission to explore the possibility of establishing a curbside organics recycling program in town. Feedback was “overwhelmingly positive,” she says; one of her students even went on beyond the 10-week term to intern with the city of Northfield to continue the work.

Another example of academic civic engagement in action is Anita Chikkatur’s Race, Immigration, and Urban Schools class. Educational studies professor Chikkatur has partnered with the Faribault school district on numerous projects, including designing an eight-week summer camp curriculum on college access. Chikkatur’s students identified issues, such as financial aid and the Common App, and wrote lessons and activities to teach high school students about these often-confusing processes.

“I felt we were being as useful for the community as for my students,” Chikkatur says.

But, despite enthusiasm from students, the college, and the community, learning beyond the classroom remains challenging. Projects like these demand an enormous amount of time.

“This is a really exciting opportunity for our students, but we need to think about how we can make it a sustainable model for the long term,” Eblen-Zayas says. “None of these projects are ones I can sit down and plan and then wrap up neatly.”

In 2014 Eblen-Zayas received curriculum development funds from Carleton’s Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant to add more civic engagement in science classes. Thanks to the grant, she was able to travel around Minnesota and meet with people in the energy sector to find collaborative, community projects for her students.

“Learning experiences outside the classroom are a way to go beyond saying we want to produce lifelong learners and engaged citizens to actually giving students some practice working with the issues they’re going to see locally, nationally, and internationally,” Eblen-Zayas says.

Michael Wenderoth '93Michael Wenderoth ’93

The Chang-Lan Endowed Fund

Michael Wenderoth’s support for Carleton stretches all the way to China.

Wenderoth is a generous contributor to the Chang-Lan Endowed Fund, named for his Chinese immigrant grandparents, Dr. Sing Chen Chang and Dr. Chien Wei Lan Chang, and started at the turn of the century by his mother, Judy Chang Wenderoth.

The Chang-Lan Fund provides students fellowships to enhance a broader understanding of China. Students are encouraged to pursue academic interests outside of the classroom, to undertake projects in the arts, humanities, sciences or social services, or to engage in an unpaid internship or volunteer service. Students are required to return to Carleton and share their experience through a presentation or talk, fueling cross-cultural understanding.

“My mother and our family believe deeply that the root of many conflicts in the world is that people and cultures don’t really know each other,” Wenderoth says. “We’ve always believed the world would be a better, more interesting — and safer — place, if people simply knew each other better.”