Real World Opportunities Enhance College Experience

I recently returned from a much needed vacation. The time to reflect was invaluable. I had time to think about the current state of the college, where we have been and where we need to be in the coming years and decades. I remain proud of the progress of the college and returned home with a renewed commitment to forging an exciting future for Dalton State alongside the growth and progress of Greater Dalton.

One of the things I thought about was the quality of our academic programs led by our faculty. I doubt many people are aware how much our faculty and academic leaders do to ensure that our academic curriculum maintains pace with workforce needs and to prepare our students for employment upon graduation.  As evidenced by the many graduates I have known in the short time I have been here, I am proud to say that our graduates are readily hired by local businesses. In fact, we receive very positive feedback from local employers on our students as employees. 

One of the key factors in the success of our graduates is the opportunity for real world learning while they are students. Unlike the academic programs of generations gone by, our students participate in a variety of activities that help them apply the information they are learning in the classroom and experience the environment of their future career field before graduation. For example, many of our students participate in internships while they are completing their undergraduate education. Health professions students and teacher candidates have, for a number of years, been given the opportunity to practice in the job setting with seasoned professionals as part of their college academic curriculum. Today, students in a variety of majors and career programs have similar opportunities to work with potential future employers while pursuing their degrees. 

These internship opportunities provide our students with opportunities to better understand the theories they are studying in their classes, to practice skills they are learning in real world environments, to get a taste of what the career opportunities will be when they graduate, and to give potential employers a preview of their capabilities. Many of our students are hired upon graduation by the very employers that provided them with internship and clinical experiences as students. In addition, internships are a great opportunity for community partnership. If your organization could benefit from the services of a Dalton State intern, please contact Stephani Womack at [email protected].

Another example of real world learning opportunities for our students is undergraduate research. Many of our faculty in a variety of disciplines work with students to help them explore topics that go beyond the usual classroom material. Our students take a deeper dive into topics such as the ecosystems at Lakeshore Park, challenges in the foster care system, ecotourism in Costa Rica, and the use of social media by nonprofit organizations. These opportunities for research involve grappling with real problems, and it does more than give the students a deeper understanding of a particular subject.

Our students gain a glimpse at their future career fields and learn about themselves as they explore their employment opportunities. I used to tell my chemistry students that studying chemistry from the textbook without going into the lab was like learning how to be a cook without going into the kitchen.   We are getting our students into the kitchen, getting their hands dirty, doing more than following a recipe. They are creating their own recipes, and this helps them learn how to use the tools of their trade and gives them opportunities to explore their own career interests and talents before graduation.

Some of our students also participate in service learning activities which typically involve fewer hours than internships. These are volunteer opportunities that are structured to ensure specific learning objectives for the students. Again, these are situations where our students deepen their understanding of their course curriculum by applying their knowledge in settings that may eventually become employment fields.

When my parents attended college, students typically studied for four years, graduated, and then began exploring career and employment opportunities after completion of their degrees. With a college degree in most any subject, graduates were fairly assured of a bright future. Today, more employers are seeking employees with particular skills, knowledge of the tools of the trade, and experience. Training a new employee on the job is costly for employers, and there are fewer jobs available that do not require job-specific knowledge and experience. While we still graduate students with degrees in a variety of academic programs ranging from chemistry, accounting, nursing and education to history, communication, psychology and social work, today our students want opportunities to practice their subject in the employment environment before they graduate.   

With input from local employers, Dalton State ensures that our academic programs prepare our students to enter their chosen career fields with the knowledge required to be successful. I have met a number of our graduates in the local schools, hospital and doctor’s offices, at chemical companies and accounting and insurance firms. I am proud to see their successful transitions from students to productive citizens of Northwest Georgia. Many of our students are the first in their families to attend college, and by far the majority of our students are at Dalton State because they want to earn a degree that will help them obtain a good job. With the support of our community, Dalton State is making that possible.