MTSU’s Experiential Learning Program again recognized three students for their accomplishments both in and out of the classroom. The Outstanding EXL Student Award is given annually to students who hold a distinguished record of service in the EXL Scholars Program.
The 2016 award recipients were Hannah Holladay, Dominic Cooper, and Samantha Kirby.
Now in its 10th year, the EXL program at MTSU is designed to enhance student learning through practical experiences in their fields of study beyond the traditional classroom and to engage the student directly in service. More than 200 courses are now approved as EXL courses universitywide.
In addition to taking EXL courses, students can sign up to be EXL Scholars, which requires them to complete assessment activities and perform an MTSU service component to receive the designation as an EXL scholar upon graduation.
Nominations are solicited each year for the EXL awards for students, faculty, community partner and administrator with “distinguished records of service/activity in the EXL Program.” The MTSU EXL Scholars Committee selects the winners.
Recipients of the Outstanding EXL Student Award are chosen based upon their EXL courses completed, samples of coursework from Experiential Learning projects and a reflective essay demonstrating vision and leadership in EXL projects and activities and the impact of those projects and activities on the community.
Hannah Holladay was selected for her service work with the Very Special Arts (VSA) Tennessee, a nonprofit organization that provides artistic opportunities for individuals with disabilities.
As an intern for VSA, Holladay conducted an international exchange with VSA Arts of Japan by teaching handweaving to students with disabilities and securing international exchanges for the 40 Days Around the World Digital Festival. One of her largest contributions, however, was to VSA Tennessee’s 40th anniversary Quilt Project, created to honor the organization’s founder Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith.
For the coordination of this project, Holladay invited all VSA affiliates to send a quilt square representative of their cultures. The completed quilt featured 38 countries and 36 states. Holladay traveled to the Capitol in Washington, D.C., for the presentation of the quilt, and met with several prominent political figures including Smith, Congressman Joseph Kennedy, and Ambassador of France Gérard Araud. Because of her academic and professional achievements, Holladay became the first student to be named as of MTSU’s Millennials on a Mission during the university’s Nonprofit and Social Innovation Week.
In nominating Holladay, Dr. Mary Beth Asbury stated, “Hannah used an EXL project in a class to continue to advocate for and serve those with special needs in our community and around the world. She used the skills she learned in her Organizational Communication classes to communicate professionally with various government and organizational entities. She truly represents what an EXL Scholar should be — someone who is willing to take a risk and put their knowledge to the test.”
Looking back on her experience in EXL, Holladay said, “Through these classes, I was provided with the opportunity to show my strengths (and sometimes weaknesses) by participating in a wide variety of hands-on work. I developed closer relationships with my professors, found lifelong mentors, and discovered how to truly work as a team. I highly recommend experiential learning classes to those at Middle Tennessee State University.”
Dominic Cooper, who was honored for his dedication to service both inside and outside the classroom, has since graduated and is now a member of the admissions staff.
During his time in EXL, Cooper assisted students with disabilities in making Christmas ornaments for the National Christmas Tree in Washington, D.C. He sharpened his leadership skills through a number of academic and service learning projects including conducting interviews and field observations concerning leadership theories.
Cooper’s involvement extends beyond the classroom, however. In order to help freshman male students in their academic and professional lives, Cooper was co-founder of an on-campus organization known as “The Young and Educated.” Members of this group receive professional photos, business cards, and advice from role models and mentors. Cooper’s dedication to helping those in the community fit perfectly within the EXL Program, which provided him with new opportunities for service.
In reflection, Cooper stated, “This program is so beneficial that I feel that each department, college, and major should include an EXL service learning component into their student’s academic plan as a degree requirement. As I reflect upon my collegiate career here as a EXL scholar, I can genuinely say that the EXL program has shaped me into a valuable contributor to my university, community, and others in the way a Blue Raider should academically.”
Samantha Kirby was recognized because of her passion and commitment to education.
An aspiring teacher and now an MTSU graduate student, Kirby received invaluable knowledge and childcare practice through EXL. In her courses, Kirby conducted observations, planned and implemented a parent-teacher conference, and practiced communication skills through regular interactions with parents. Her high involvement in kindergarten classrooms helped Kirby build relationships with both children and parents. This, in turn, helped her secure a job as a child care provider for one of the families. Most instrumental in Kirby’s education, however, was the opportunity to plan and implement lesson plans in a kindergarten classroom.
Kirby noted that EXL courses provide students with professional experience: “As a pre-service teacher, I cannot imagine completing my education without the experience of being in a classroom and around children all the time. The infant/toddler and preschool practicum allow the opportunity for the pre-service teacher to have interactions with parents, really dig deep into student and early childhood learning, and, for the first time, plan and implement real lesson plans.”