Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

Making connections

There’s no great mystery about what makes for the most impactful, life-changing college education. Broad-based research has consistently shown that certain approaches to tåeaching and learning offer students the greatest return: dedicated programs for first-year students; a commitment to diversity and global programs; and opportunities for service learning, internships, research and other forms of experiential learning.

Sound familiar? The Association of American Colleges and Universities calls these ideas high-impact practices, but you probably know them as the Wheaton curriculum. The college has emphasized these approaches to learning for many years. And alumnae/i and students regularly highlight these features, along with the faculty themselves, as being critical to the amazing liberal arts education the college offers.

Admittedly, Wheaton is not the only college in the country that offers these types of programs. Many do some of these things, but very few are able to offer them all. During more than 20 years in higher education, I have never encountered any college that integrates these kinds of programs as seamlessly, thoroughly and effectively as Wheaton. 

The incredible power of what we do at Wheaton begins with the leadership and creativity of faculty and staff. Wheaton didn’t adopt the idea of first-year seminar programs, of internships and experiential learning, or of a global dimension to the curriculum. We were pioneers. We helped prove that these approaches to teaching and learning make a difference in the lives of students. And over the years, we have refined these programs. 

2016 Internship ShowcaseTaken together, we call these programs the Wheaton Edge. What is it, specifically? It is the personalized support that we offer every student; our rigorous, interdisciplinary liberal arts curriculum; our residential campus experience, where students have myriad opportunities to develop leadership skills; and experiential learning opportunities.

In fact, beginning with the current sophomore class, the Class of 2019, the Wheaton Edge includes guaranteed funding for an internship, undergraduate research project, entrepreneurial venture, community service effort or other experiential-learning opportunity. We often talk about the advantage of our approach to learning, particularly of internship experiences, as being something students receive when they graduate—to their first professional job, to graduate or professional school, to a prestigious award or public service position. But students experience that benefit long before graduation. Experiential learning complements what we do in the classroom.

16 Internship Showcase Book

Click on the 2016 Internship Showcase cover above to read about the experiences beyond the classroom

For some, an internship experience is the catalyst that helps them connect the disparate subjects that they have studied and been fascinated by during their college careers. In other cases, the experience is the inspiration to return to the classroom, the laboratory or the studio to focus on a particular topic or discipline with a new level of interest and commitment.

I see the impact of this learning on a regular basis. One of the most striking displays of its power is the college’s Internship Showcase, an annual event that offers students the opportunity to share their experiences and the lessons they learned over the summer.

The college’s emphasis on active learning and engagement with ideas and the wider world requires tremendous commitment and an ongoing investment. Our internship funding guarantee alone represents more than $1.2 million each year dedicated to supporting student internships. It also requires the active involvement of faculty and staff in guiding students to find the opportunities that reflect their interests and that can offer genuine learning experiences.

Alumnae/i, parents and friends of Wheaton play an enormous role in making all this possible. The philanthropic support that so many of you are offering for the Wheaton Edge will help to make our guarantee sustainable for the long term. In addition, the opportunities and connections that you provide to our students are indispensable. Together, we are making a difference in the lives of our students, and through all that they do now and in the future, we are making a difference in the wider world. That is high-impact learning.