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From an Expert: Tips for Engaging Students in Experiential Learning

Educator with students in architecture working on electronic tablet

College students are hungry for professional experience – and you can help!

There is so much buzz in the media these days about college students seeking internships, externships, volunteer opportunities, and experiential learning of every kind. Does your organization include college students in your volunteer and internship ranks? If not, are you interested in learning more about how to engage this up-and-coming group of local talent in your organization? Are college students seeking experience with your organization worth the investment of time, energy, and expense? In my opinion – yes!

Given the proper planning, preparation and execution, adding a college intern (or two, or ten) to your team is a great way to achieve your organization’s goals, move your organization forward, save the expense of hiring a full-time professional with benefits, and, all the while, train and educate future professionals in your field.

What are all of the ways students seek experiential learning while in college?

Depending upon a student’s course of study in college, there are a number of “buckets” of experiential learning that they will seek to pursue (sometimes for course credit, often, just for professional skill building). At VCU, we define experiential learning as a meaningful, hands-on experience in a diverse, real world setting with regular constructive feedback from an identified mentor that builds individual identity and confidence to pursue career goals.

A variety of options for seeking this learning include:

  • Clinical Experience
  • Cooperative Education (Co-op)
  • Externship (limited job shadowing)
  • Internship
  • Independent Study & Class Projects
  • Practicum
  • Shadowing (for exploring the medical professions)
  • Service-Learning
  • Research
  • Volunteerism
  • Work-Study


What are the most important steps before hiring an intern or engaging a college student in an experiential learning opportunity?

One of the best things you can do is to get to know the career center teams at the colleges and universities in the Richmond area. These offices can help you connect with all of the ways students at that institution are ready for, and able to work with, your organization.

If internships are the way you’d like to engage, there are a number of helpful lists and how-to guides for beginning and/or improving an already existing intern position or program. Here are a few of my favorites from Internships.com:

12 Steps to Setting Up an Intern Program

10 Benefits of Starting an Intern Program

Now, for a few local resources:

University of Richmond’s Office of Alumni and Career Services’ Internship Toolkit

Snagajob’s Career Advice Blog – Why an Internship Rocks

ConnectVA’s Connect to Students page for contact information at each local school for internships

UPCOMING EVENT: ConnectVA’s Nonprofit Internship Bootcamp – Friday, January 8, 2016

UPCOMING EVENT: Attend the third annual Regional Nonprofit and Social Services Career Fair with VCU and ConnectVA on February 17th to find talent for your organization

For more information or to learn more about your experiential learning questions, feel free to contact Joslyn Bedell, Associate Director for Employer & Experiential Development at VCU Career Services.



ConnectVA Guest Blogger: Joslyn Bedell, Associate Director, Employer and Experiential Development, VCU Career Services

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