Preparing Students for Lifelong Success

For Jenica Hagler, a visual learner, sitting in a classroom and listening to a lecture is sometimes challenging. A CAHNRS study-abroad trip to Brazil introduced her to a new way of learning that she describes as empowering.

“Reading books and memorizing facts gave me the educational background,” she said, “but actually experiencing and living the education cannot be matched in a classroom.” Hagler, who is a sophomore at WSU in Agricultural and Food Business Economics, returned from the two-week experience with a greater knowledge of Brazilian agriculture. Perhaps more importantly, she also came away with a new appreciation for hands-on learning, a new interest in exploring cultural differences, and new views of the world and herself.

A new CAHNRS program is designed to provide more students like Hagler with exceptional learning experiences that teach skills they will use for the rest of their lives. The proposed Center for Transformational Learning and Leadership (CTLL) will serve as the gateway to CAHNRS. It is a point of access for bringing the industry into direct contact with students and for moving learning out of the traditional classroom through mentored internships, immersion-based international experiences, peer mentoring, networking, service learning, leadership development, and life skill enhancement.

Making the Connection

The CTLL is an early outcome of a collaboration between CAHNRS leadership and the National Board of Advisors (NBOA). Created in the fall of 2012, the NBOA enables the college to take advantage of the expertise, vision, and passion of more than 100 industry representatives from various disciplines. At the same time, board members can participate in the development of programs that will benefit their businesses.

“These stakeholders and supporters are helping us make our academic programs, extension work, and research efforts relevant,” said Kim Kidwell, executive associate dean of CAHNRS, and the driving force behind the CTLL. “In the past, we’ve been short-sighted about harnessing the expertise, power, and potential of this group to enrich the learning experience of our students.”

At the NBOA meeting in Seattle last March, board members expressed the need for increasing student confidence by teaching skills for navigating conflict, working in teams, and problem solving. They see the CTLL as a way of achieving these goals as well as an avenue for connecting students and industry.

Creating Opportunities

Jenica Hagler with a snake around her neck
Studying abroad taught me life lessons, and caused me to reflect on my goals and values.”
~Jenica Hagler
Photo courtesy of Colleen Taugher

Based on these insights, and building upon the solid academic foundation that a CAHNRS education provides, the CTLL brings together students, stakeholders, and industry. “As a college, our wheelhouse is providing a rich, relevant academic experience. Most of us aren’t experts in running a business, teaching high school, or marketing products in the real world,” said Kidwell. “If we want to prepare our students for success, we need to build portals for essential, beyond-the-classroom learning with our industry partners.”

Mentored internships are one of the ways the CTLL will connect students and industry. “We don’t just give employers a to-do list to execute as part of the internship process,” said Kidwell. “We ask them to introduce students to diverse aspects of the industry. As a mentor, you are passing the torch for your discipline to the next generation.”

The CTLL will also be an incubator for study-abroad experiences. In the past few years, CAHNRS has hosted several highly successful international learning experiences in locations like Rwanda, Malawi, and Brazil. Students want these opportunities to continue.

“I can’t imagine graduating from college without stepping out of my comfort zone at least once or twice,” Hagler said. “With as much time and effort that students dedicate to their classroom education, I believe that it is important to also immerse ourselves in an experience that reaches deeper and extends beyond the typical classroom in order to fully prepare ourselves for life after graduation.”

Kidwell hopes to use the lessons learned from these excursions to encourage and facilitate travel experiences in every department in the college. “We are working out the mechanics of the international learning experience so it won’t be difficult for others to execute,” said Kidwell. The next trip is organized for a group of animal science students to learn first-hand about how their discipline is applied in China, during the summer of 2014.

Along with immersing students in the industry, the CTLL will bring the industry to students through career networking and advising events, and panel and roundtable discussions with industry experts.

Realizing Our Purpose

The CTLL also offers leadership development and life-skill enhancement for all “students.”

“We use the term ‘student’ more broadly than some people do,” said Mary Kay Patton, clinical assistant professor in CAHNRS and founding member of the CTLL team. “We aren’t just talking about the people who are paying tuition and sitting in our classes; we are talking about all people as lifelong learners.”

The first of these offerings includes an online Tidal Leadership Certificate program (see ad, right) and an annual women’s leadership symposium (story, pg. 18). Other learning opportunities are in development, including life-skill enhancement workshops, peer-mentoring programs, and customized leadership training programs for businesses and civic groups.

Expanding Our Potential

The work of the CTLL is just beginning. It is a big idea that has moved quickly from inspiration to execution. While its current location is virtual, the goal is to house the CTLL in a physical location that truly becomes the gateway to CAHNRS.

“Sometimes when you are trying to find your way around WSU, you can get lost in the largeness of it, whether it is the human scope, the bureaucracy, or just knowing where you need to go,” said Patton. “We want to make it easy for the student who wants to apply what they are learning to an international experience, or for someone from industry to hire an intern.”

The CTLL will help provide students with the skills and experience they need to be able to step into lead positions upon graduating, said Jim Fitzgerald, executive director of the Far West Agribusiness Association and NBOA member. “Students should consider it ‘the edge’ they are looking for in a competitive world,” he said.

While the CTLL is designed to be self-sustaining operationally, it is building an endowment to fund student scholarships, internships, and other learning activities. The CTLL has received more than $1 million in support pledges.

To learn more visit CTLL Leadership.