By Kristin Geraty, Associate Provost & Dean of Engaged Learning
Conducting behavioral neuroscience research as an undergraduate. Excavating a historical site in your college town. Helping low-income individuals and families complete their taxes. Getting published in a highly regarded journal.
All are examples of how North Central College students are taking what they have learned in the classroom and applying those lessons to real life. This is “engaged learning,” and it is central to a North Central education, no matter the major. Engaged learning experiences help reinforce what a student learns through coursework. They also develop skills and confidence as a student readies for a career, graduate school, or another avenue after college.
When exploring prospective schools — whether for yourself or a student in your life — ask about opportunities for engaged learning. Far more should be offered than just access to internships postings. A college or university should be intentional and dynamic about fostering a variety of opportunities for students, and faculty, fellow students and community partners should play a part, so students learn through being mentored, working with a team of peers, or solving a societal challenge.
North Central’s Office of Engaged Learning at North Central is dedicated to creating and supporting opportunities for student research and fellowships, internships with local companies, study away programs, community service, and other opportunities.
Just as important as the “doing” is the “thinking.” Reflection is a critical component of engaged learning. For instance, North Central students who collaborate with community partners such as Community Access Naperville, Naperville Public Library and Hesed House take time afterwards to think about and articulate how they applied their academic knowledge and critical thinking skills to meet a need.
There are countless examples of students who have thrived through their engaged learning experiences at North Central. Here are just three:
• Molly is an accounting major in our School of Business and Entrepreneurship. She has volunteered this tax season with the organization Ladder Up, which collaborates with North Central to train students to be IRS-certified tax experts. Together with fellow students and led by a faculty member, Molly has spent her Saturdays helping low-income families complete and file their taxes.
• Adrian majored in behavioral neuroscience and gained extensive lab experience as an undergraduate. With McKenzie, a fellow student, he co-presented a study titled “Impact of Differential Rearing on Cocaine Addiction” during North Central’s annual student research symposium.
• Victoria worked with a faculty member on an academic writing project about baseball and society. She is now a published co-author of essays for the Society for American Baseball Research.
One upcoming engaged learning opportunity will take place on familiar “ground.” In May, North Central archeology students will do excavation at Knoch Knolls Park, site of Scott’s Cabin. Built by Stephen Scott in 1830, the log cabin is recognized as the first white settlement in the Naperville area. Students will also help clear the park in preparation for the construction of an ADA-approved ramp and other structures in time for the Naperville Bicentennial in 2031. North Central is grateful to the Naperville Park District for the opportunity!