Experiential Education

To the Editor:

I’m inspired by the enthusiasm for intensive experiential learning reported last week (“Experiential learning programs encourage faculty discussion,” April 25). I would like to encourage the Williams community to participate in existing opportunities and help create more local immersion opportunities, particularly in North Adams. In addition to Jeff Thaler’s Winter Study course “Resettling Refugees in Maine,” the College offers many locally-oriented experiential learning opportunities. These include the semester courses, “Clinical and Community Psychology” and the “Advanced Seminar in Teaching and Learning,” both of which have been on the books for a long time. There are many additional experiential learning courses. Two of the newest of these push students out of the purple bubble in potentially transformative ways.

“Problems and Prospects of American Democracy,” taught this term and in spring 2010 by Assistant Professor of Political Science Justin Crowe, challenges students to immerse themselves in local civic life and engage in civic action in light of their experience and analysis. Students who’ve taken this course have remarked on the powerful impact of the fieldwork, revealing potential they never knew they had.  One student became a community organizer and used the skills she learned from this course to organize activists around clean energy issues in Maryland.

In “Perceptual Intelligence,” offered by Hana van der Kolk, Arthur Levitt, Jr. ’52 artist-in-residence in dance, students engage in one-on-one mutual apprenticeships with local residents, including a farmer, a beekeeper and a harmonica player. As they learn new skills, Williams students teach their partners music and movement exercises provided by van der Kolk. The class culminates in a public performance in North Adams.

Students interested in these and other kinds of experiential learning need not wait until a new semester program is launched. They can now create unique learning opportunities through existing courses and independent studies. Indeed, in the spirit of Bob Gaudino, it’s not hard to imagine a Williams at Home type of program entirely in North Adams. Those who support community engagement, experiential learning and leadership development stand ready to help.


– Paula Consolini

Coordinator of Experiential Education

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