Austin White: The Value of Hands On Learning
After taking my final morning commute, I sat down at my computer one last time with the daunting task of putting words to my DC experience. This morning’s rare but refreshing cool breeze was a faint reminder of home, almost as if it intended to make today’s finality more vivid. The California sun was soon to be a reality again, and this experience soon to be a memory. Staring at a blank word document, all I could think was, “Where to begin…”
I thought back to last spring when I decided to spend this summer in DC. I had actually recently returned from a semester abroad in Rome where I took a break from my political science coursework to study art history. Italy had shown me the value of hands-on learning, as I became completely inspired by the opportunity to physically visit the paintings, statues and architecture that we studied in class. When I then returned to UCSB, feeling a sense of urgency to get back on track with my major classes, I began to wonder how I could integrate that same feeling of tangibility to my interests in political science. So on my first day back on campus when I heard about the UCDC program, where I could earn academic units for interning in DC to gain real world experience, the decision to enroll seemed obvious.
After researching the multitude of internship opportunities this city offers, I realized that I really wanted to get involved with something education related. I had (and still have) tentative plans to study education in some form or another in graduate school, and figured substantiating the learning process with a hands-on internship experience could provide a similar inspiration to what I found in Rome. My time abroad had already sparked a deeper interest in education, as I began to wonder how all students could benefit from the alternative forms of instruction I had been exposed to. I have never been naïve enough to assume everyone has the opportunity to study art in Rome, but after reading further I saw parallels within the charter school movement that could give students options for different kinds of learning. I quickly found CER and saw that it was exactly what I was looking for: a non-profit research organization dedicated to advocating for diverse learning options. Fortunately they agreed to take me on as an intern, and three days after school ended I found myself in DC ready to start working.
Nine weeks later, and somehow it is already over. In some sense, just from the sheer quantity of newly digested information, it feels like I have been with CER for a lifetime. On the other hand, the fast moving pace of this remarkably active organization made the experience fly by. Not only did I learn about the substance of education issues—the wars being waged over charter policy in states around the country, the ongoing discussion of Common Core, the debates over online learning and technology in the classroom, and so much more—I learned what goes in to running a non-profit and how much a small team can accomplish. Never again will I see an envelope filled with informational pamphlets without remembering that someone has to fill them, a website without thinking of the whole team who daily manages it, a collection of research without wondering who gathered it, and most importantly, never again will I hear of an education policy development without knowing the incredible effort needed to produce it.
I emerge once more convinced that substantiating classroom instruction with real world experience has been vital for my own education, and feel compelled to help future generations to gain similar opportunities. With just one year left in college, this experience provided an incredible insight into what the future may hold for me. I will always remember this summer as one that confirmed my passion for education issues and inspired me to continue on a path towards a career in the field.
After graduating next spring, I plan to teach English abroad to gain yet another new educational perspective, and can only hope that I find as significant of a learning experience as my time in DC. I can never say it enough, but thank you to all the staff of CER enough for providing me with such a great opportunity and helping me to learn so much. It truly has been a fantastic summer.