Eleven UTC students in the upper level cross-disciplinary course Tropical Island Ecology and Geology conducted research in San Salvador last summer, where they examined coral and algae living on natural reefs and compared them to those living on artificial reefs, such as sunken ships.  Dr. Ann Holmes, Assistant Professor of Geology, and Dawn Ford, Adjunct Professor in Biological and Environmental Sciences, added a new layer of learning for these students by earning the designation of the pilot ThinkAchieve Experiential Learning class.

ThinkAchieve is UTC’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) for reaccreditation. The QEP focuses on the development of student critical thinking skills, and experiential learning or learning through experience is one way to promote those skills.   The students in San Salvador were prompted to reflect on their experience-based learning before, during, and after their research.

“This interdisciplinary, collaborative learning experience, complete with critical reflection of research, gave these juniors and seniors opportunities with writing, presenting, data analysis, library research—an invaluable experience,” said Ford, who worked with Holmes and the UTC Office of International Programs and National Student Exchange to offer the course.  She added that they will present their research at a poster competition sponsored by the Tennessee Academy of Science, an established forum for science education and research.

Experiential learning activities can occur anywhere.  Small ThinkAchieve Development Grants are available to take learning Beyond the Classroom and help fund experiences close to campus and around the world.

A Chattanooga-based experience

Debbie Bell, Assistant Director of the Brock Scholars Program, UHON 1000, received a grant to fund “Freshmen Honors Studies,” focused on civic engagement in the 2013-14 academic year.  Co-instructors Jaya Todai, a Brock Scholar junior and Krue Brock, a local businessman, teacher, community advocate and volunteer are leading student discussions about civic engagement.  Students are learning more about Chattanooga and they are being challenged to identify critical issues they may be able to help address.

“The students have researched issues, read case studies on topics relevant to Chattanooga like the food desert and educational inequity and have gone out into the city.  They are charged to develop questions they want to answer about critical issues in the city, and to analyze the information they gather to share with the class. The goal as we progress is for the class to synthesize what they learn to create an action plan for a civic engagement project,” Bell explained.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke came to campus to speak with the students at their class meeting.  He discussed the work of the Mayor’s Office and the collaborative work between UTC and the city to develop the area surrounding campus.  He answered students’ questions about government priorities and critical issues in the city.

An ‘ear opening’ experience abroad

Dr. Kevin Ford was also awarded a ThinkAchieve grant to help offset costs when the UTC Chamber Singers went on a performance tour of Prague, Vienna, Eisenstadt, and Budapest during spring break 2013.  The group performed at several churches and St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest before an extremely large audience.  They toured palaces, churches and historic sites, and experienced something unique.

“The real focus of this trip was for musicians who perform choral music to be able to perform and experience music written for specific acoustical spaces.  In the U. S. we have very few spaces like the old cathedrals with their vast spaces of hard surfaces.  The echo produced in these spaces are actually accounted for and used by the composers who wrote for those spaces in mind.  This was an ‘ear opening’ experience for the students.  They were able to hear what happens when, as they sing and leave one chord and move to the next chord, the first chord is still in the air.  They were able to finally experience this first hand.  The performance experience of those pieces was strongly impacted by the spaces,” explained Ford, UC Foundation Professor of Music, Director Chattanooga and Chamber Singers, Applied Choral Conducting.

It’s all about student success

Classes designated as Beyond the Classroom focus on how students think critically, a great strength at UTC and one of the institution’s best connections to the Chattanooga community according to Bengt Carlson,  Experiential Learning Coordinator.

“It is no surprise that students who participate and get involved are more likely to stay and succeed here…This connection is well documented in the experiential learning and retention literature,” Carlson said.

A significant number of classes are already designated as Beyond the Classroom for the Spring 2014 Class Schedule.

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