By: Isabella Witherow ‘24 (she/her), Staff Writer
“We learn all these things that aren’t applicable to the real world; this is a class that is purely based around a real world situation and really applies to you,” Cameron Oliver ‘21 said, reflecting on the differences between a typical class and the High Impact Experiential Learning class he is currently taking.
Not your typical online class, the High Impact Experiential Learning (XPL) classes are offered this year as an alternative class style in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The set-up combines an online class with an internship. Each student finds an individual internship, completes reflection assignments, meets with their professor and small group every other week, and has evaluations of their work, from their boss and professor, throughout the internship.
The college currently offers three XPL-199 classes: Entra- and Intrapreneurship, Community Engagement, and Global Citizenship. Kimbrough Professor of Mathematics Dr. Laurie Heyer, who teaches the Entra- and Intrapreneurship course, said each class has almost the same structure in terms of assignments and meetings, yet each has a different focus.
Director of the Dean Rusk International Studies Program Jane Zimmerman, who teaches the Global Citizenship class, said, “The expectation is that students spend eight to 10 hours a week at their internship;” however, there is also the added time commitment of class and small group meetings, as well as time set aside for readings and assignments. According to Dr. Heyer, the class meetings occur every other week, and the small group meetings occur on the opposite weeks.
The classes and meetings are structured around discussions of the assignments, which Dr. Heyer explained are designed to help students reflect on their specific internships. Some of these assignments include case studies examining company ethics, values, and mission statements and how those are seen in a company’s actions. According to Dr. Heyer, this allows students to transfer those observational skills to their internships and evaluate how their company’s actions reflect their mission statement and values.
It is important to note this class requires students to find their own internships; however, professors work with the Center for Civil Engagement to help students, at times also using their own connections if necessary, ensuring that no student will be without an internship.
Zimmerman said that she initially worried about all of the students being able to find internships because of COVID, yet within the first two weeks, all 12 students in her class had internships. Zimmerman also said it would be possible to use an internship that has been extended from the fall to the spring semester for this class. Many of her fall students’ internships came from the extension of a summer internship through the fall semester.
Oliver, a student in Zimmerman’s Global Citizenship class, originally planned to study abroad this year, but he was not able to due to the pandemic. Instead, he decided to take the Global Citizenship class as a way to maintain a form of global connections.
Oliver works for Sister Cities of Charlotte and the House of Representatives for Congresswoman Alma Adams. He said he joined Sister Cities for the class and currently works with them to revitalize their program and forge new connections. He previously worked for Congresswoman Adams; however, he found that the internship had provided enough global connection that he could apply what he was learning in his class to that internship.
As Dr. Heyer describes, these classes allow students to get the most out of their internships, notably through time spent in reflection. Zimmerman discussed how the class assists students in preparation for some of the challenges professionals face, especially just coming out of college and into the workplace. Such challenges include managing relationships with a supervisor and a boss. “I feel that there is a real benefit in that the course also provides structure for me to help or advise them on some of those issues,” she said.
Zimmerman emphasized that, while October is the month to apply to spring internships, it is not too late to apply, whether you plan to take an XPL course or not. As spring course registration is upon us, there are some things to keep in mind when considering this class. Dr. Heyer recommended this class primarily for juniors and seniors, and she offered a reminder for students that this is a pass/fail class that must be taken with three other classes.
Zimmerman advised students looking into these classes to be honest with themselves about the workload and time commitment they can take on. Oliver explained that because this is an unpaid internship, it is possible for students to do just enough work to get by, but doing it to the highest capacity that you can is what will truly prepare you for the real world.
Zimmerman remarked on what this course means to her, saying, “It’s that other part of Davidson’s mission statement; we talk about developing humane instincts and disciplining creative minds for lives of leadership and service…this [course] is really about that last part of the mission statement, that is preparing students for lives of leadership and service.”