Experiential Learning Center at The University of Akron

UA's Center for Experiential Learning

OUR GOAL: To enable students to emerge as civically engaged, skilled and adaptable leaders, ready to take on real-world challenges. More.

Spring’s ‘Unclasses’ announced!

​​The EXL Center is running three “Unclasses” this spring semester. You can enroll today!

These courses embrace community-engagement themes and are available to students as Special Topics, Independent Studies, or Honors Project credits with appropriate approval from home departments/advisors.

In these experiential learning classes, students will collaborate across disciplinary and college boundaries to define problems and seek solutions.

CLASS ONE: Commuter Students: Research for Retention and Student Success

Dr. Kathy Feltey, Department of Sociology (instructor of record)

Traffic on the highwayMW 9:55-10:45 p.m. with additional time for fieldwork

Course numbers 3850:365, OR independent study (IS) or Honors credit (negotiated with your department)

This unclass, geared toward advanced undergraduate and masters-level students, involves problem-based and experiential learning. The University of Akron is largely a commuter university with an estimated 90% of students commuting from off-campus.  Commuter students face unique challenges in staying in school and graduating.  One-quarter of UA students are also first-generation college students, which poses unique challenges as well.

The problem this unclass will address is: What do UA students need to stay in school and successfully complete their programs of study? How can we build better pathways and support structures so we can create a better campus climate for commuter students?

The unclass will include an exploration of: 

1) the literature on student retention, commuter campuses, and student success;

2) secondary data available for UA students;

3) questions that remain or emerge and methods for gathering data to address those;

4) findings from the course inquiry and how they can be “packaged” for different audiences; and

5) potential strategies to improve commuter student outcomes at UA.

The course will be informed by the expertise of Dr. Curtis Clemons (Math), Dr. Pam Schulze (currently teaching “The Consequences of Caring” unclass), and Dr. Carolyn Behrman (for the ARM Lab and multi-methods research).

CLASS TWO: Public Relations and Marketing Planning and Implementation for Student Design Teams

McKenna Vietmeier, School of Communication (instructor of record) and Lauren Houser (CBA)

Tuesdays and Thursdays, 12:15-1:30 p.m. as needed with additional time in fieldwork

Course numbers: 7600: 450:003, OR independent study (IS) or Honors credit (negotiated with your department)

The intention of this unclass is to pair students with interests in communication or marketing with Student Design Teams from the College of Engineering. Students in this class will get direct, hands-on experience translating STEM concepts and current scientific developments to the public. This vital skill will be developed in a structured framework developed by faculty but undertaken in the field setting of direct engagement with the Engineering Design Teams.  If your interests are in public relations, social media and/or marketing plans, this is a great way to get real-world experience that will be of value to these competitive UA teams.  Focus will be on how to communicate technical or science-related information in an accessible way.

CLASS THREE: Swimming with the Sharks

Dr. Amanda Booher, English Department (instructor of record) and Elyse Ball (UA Research Foundation)

Tuesdays and Thursdays 1:45-3 p.m. as needed with additional time in fieldwork

Course Numbers: 3300: 489/589, OR independent study (IS) or Honors credit (negotiated with your department)

Want a hands-on role in determining the medical and scientific innovations of the future? In this unclass, students will collaborate with the UA Research Foundation (UARF) to evaluate UA scientists’ proposals to develop their innovations into commercial products. You will have the opportunity to work with cross-disciplinary teams to: 

1) understand and communicate clearly about the development and purpose of the innovation.; 

2) research and critically analyze the potential and feasibility of the proposal; and 

3) ultimately recommend awarding up to $100,000 in funding from the UARF to develop the best proposals into commercial products. 

This unclass is ideal for advanced undergraduate and masters-level students interested in science, medicine, and writing, and aims to challenge and enhance your research, critical thinking, and writing abilities. Additionally, you will gain insight into and experience with university and government funding organizations for the sciences and medicine, and invaluable skills for your own future careers.

EXL to offer faculty support grants for community-engaged learning

The EXL Center at UA is pleased to be able to offer small grants (up to $500 each) to support UA courses that incorporate community engagement through community-based research and/or service-learning.

For an instructor to receive funding, the course must include all enrolled students in some form of engagement with local or regional community partners (Akron and Northeast Ohio). Applications must make clear how curricular course goals relate to the partner(s) and proposed community engagement.

PDF icon  Download guidelines

EXL seeks proposals for ‘Faculty-Driven Initiatives’

To expand the number of students involved in experiential learning and the range of opportunities available to them, the EXL Center requests proposals for faculty-led initiatives that represent innovative, even entrepreneurial, ways to engage students in experiential learning. These proposals should be first shaped by what faculty and students would like to explore (they should be inquiry driven and problem solving focused) as significant and beneficial learning experiences to UA students. The EXL Center supported three faculty-driven projects in Year One (Paha Sapa Program, Unclasses, and Right Message, Right Messenger: The Currency of Compassion).

PDF icon  Download guidelines

PDF icon  Answers to your questions

Overview of EXL activity

Experiential Learning

Through Faculty-Driven Initiatives, a dozen faculty from as many disciplines delivering innovative experiential learning opportunities in five classes this Fall. These initiatives are the foundation for multiple grant proposals (NSF, Clark Morgan Foundation, GAR Foundation, and Knight Foundation) and serve as launch opportunities for future student research. See EXL activity related to Experiential Learning since our Launch in March 2016.

  • Faculty-Driven Initiatives (3 interdisciplinary initiatives involving 12 faculty, 6 courses)
    • Experiential learning for UA students on the Pine Ridge Reservation with Lakota teenagers (15-20 undergraduates and 3 graduate students)
    • Experiential learning for UA students in cross-disciplinary classes with community partners (3 classes of undergraduates and 2 graduate students)
    • Experiential learning in the context of an ongoing research project for 2 classes and 6-8 graduate students)
  • EXL Summer Scholars - 9 transcripted community-based internships
  • The Currency of Compassion academic conference and product development
  • Monthly Faculty Advisory Council, Community Advisory Council and Student Advisory Council  (20-30 members per council)
  • Faculty Fellows Program (6)
  • The creation of our Resilient Communities Working Group with students and faculty from UA and Kent in engineering and the social sciences

Civic Engagement

Faculty, students and staff from UA intensified and expanded our capacity to support productive problem solving conversations in NE Ohio, including intensive outreach and recruitment efforts touching hundreds of the best High School students in the region and beyond.

  • What’s Your Problem? Immersion Week (5 Public/Private High Schools Participate), co-sponsored by the Maynard Family Foundation & Roger and Judith Read
  • FAIL SAFE 24-hour Hackathon, co-sponsored by the Burton D. Morgan Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation (grant support through Spring 2017)
  • EXL leadership and students partnering with BRAIN Program in Akron Public Schools
  • Summit County Executive Russ Pry, Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan & Akron City Council President Marilyn Keith speak at New Leadership and Vision in a 21stCentury Akron
  • EXL leadership and 4 Summer Scholars partnering with community organization for the Middlebury Better Block
  • Ongoing collaboration with the Akron Public Schools (APS/IIA Middle School Summer Debate Camp; White House initiative (see Entrepreneurship))


Building on existing, expanding, and deepening UA partnerships with industry and social entrepreneurs through Hack-A-Thons, White House and UN recognition, and trainings like the Entrepreneurship Learning Initiative that involved twenty faculty and staff, because EX[L] leadership chose to create the center in an entrepreneurial way—focusing on collaborative problem solving.

  • Spring Training (25 Faculty from 6 different UA academic colleges participate over three full days with the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative
  • Presidential Proclamation at the White House National Week of Making recognizing EX[L] (1 of 50 programs recognized nationwide)
  • United Nations Global Entrepreneurship Program Director Jeff Hoffman introduces EX[L] to140 Nations at International Forum
  • EXL Leadership presentations and subsequent partnership with Akron Council of Engineering and Scientific Societies
  • EXL partnership with city and county in TechHire grant proposal development
  • BLUprints to EX[L] monthly community leadership gatherings


Review of experiential learning at UA

The EXL Center is new to UA, but experiential learning has a long, deep history!

Here are some examples of what UA faculty and students have been doing.

If you have an example you’d like to add, send a PowerPoint slide like one of these to behrman@uakron.edu.”


Tell us how we're doing: behrman@uakron.edu.

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