Aug 09 2023

Experiential Learning in Higher Ed: A Catalyst for Career Futures

These types of programs give students valuable technology experience.

The value of a university degree is a major topic of conversation across the U.S. Beyond the surface of the debate lies the issue of student outcomes. The path to good student outcomes includes not just successful degree completion but also a clear career route with opportunities for hands-on experience. To support this journey, higher education institutions are quickly taking notice of the benefits of experiential learning.

The University of Texas at San Antonio’s IT department, University Technology Solutions, where I support several service portfolios including student experiential learning, has served as a host for part-time student jobs for many years. UTS discovered during the COVID-19 pandemic that experiential learning could mean much more than posting students at the help desk to support calls.

UTSA’s Bold Careers Initiative Gives Students Valuable Experience

To advance our student support mission, UTS expanded traditional IT department offerings for technical experience and started the UTS Bold Careers Ambassador and Internship program as part of the universitywide Bold Careers Initiative.

For many of the program’s students, this is their first time working with a team in a real-life professional environment. Internships are generally offered during students’ junior and senior years. The program’s design allows freshman and sophomore students to serve in the ambassador track of the program.

Click the banner below to learn more about the technology behind today's HyFlex learning spaces.

Interns work on projects related to their department requirements for 200 to 300 hours per semester. Ambassadors serve for a shorter time, up to 25 hours each month.

Students experience interviews, go through background checks where required and are assigned a manager for the semester. The ambassador track also allows students to stay with a department throughout their university careers, and it opens opportunities to be hired into the department part time or after graduation.

Initiative Gives Students a Glimpse of Technological Opportunities

Managers support the students’ professional development while helping them learn technical skills as well as teamwork and other soft skills that employers seek.

Assignments have included placement and experiential learning in the areas of public health technology, cybersecurity, project management, technical writing and research, information systems, geospatial technology, finance, marketing, enterprise applications, virtual desktop infrastructure, business analytics, and telecommunications.

Students see the multiple steps of the product lifecycle, helping their assigned teams with projects, support services, presentations, publications and research.

For example, UTS Bold Careers Program participants working in the public health technology research space say that the experience has been an amazing opportunity for young professionals pursuing careers in healthcare.

READ MORE: Learn how to optimize device management in a higher education setting.

Collaboration with community partners both inside and outside of the educational institution is a big part of preparing students for their future roles in the workplace. The more time students can spend participating in these types of activities, networking with professionals, practitioners and future employers, the more comfortable they will be in the workforce. These alliances include partnerships with area school districts, community partners and industry.

True experiential learning programs include collaboration, mentorship and guidance that will serve students throughout their lives. UTSA is committed to providing experiential learning opportunities that transform students into competitive graduates who are prepared for successful careers.

By 2028, the university aims to have 75 percent of its students participate in one or more experiential learning opportunities. Initiatives such as the UTS Bold Careers Program are helping the university to reach that goal.

skynesher/Getty Images

Learn from Your Peers

What can you glean about security from other IT pros? Check out new CDW research and insight from our experts.