Rich Learning Opportunities Change Lives Forever

Powerful learning occurs when we provide students with high-impact experiences that rock their world – then help them make sense of it all.  At St. Cloud State one of the best examples I’ve seen of this kind of learning process has been the preparation and presentation of the Holocaust oratorio, “To Be Certain of the Dawn,” featured in this issue’s cover story.

The coming together of 200 St. Cloud State students and community members to perform an emotionally charged concert at a former Nazi concentration camp in France, as well as other places in Germany and Switzerland, was a extraordinary event in the life of our campus and in the lives of each individual involved. It was one of those remarkable times when all the sunlight of our University was focused to ignite the passion and reflection that characterize a strong learning community.

Everyone who got involved in this experience, from the organizers to the faculty to the students, invested their talent and skill and energy in an effort as unsettling as it was wonderful.  Participants helped each other through this challenging experience and helped each other figure out how to put it all into perspective.  And, as in any great learning experience, the impact – the life-altering effects will continue unfolding for years to come. The ripples of change have only just begun.

At St. Cloud State we provide a wide variety of rich opportunities for students to benefit from educational experiences outside the classroom. One of these opportunities is “service learning”…the use of a community service project to achieve the learning objectives of an academic course of study.  Service learning is just one of many significant avenues for exposing our students to a world of endeavors that lead to self-discovery, but it is a particularly powerful example of this kind of learning that benefits both the student and the wider St. Cloud community.  Students go out and make a difference in the lives of others, then come back to the University to discover the impact of that experience in their own lives.

This “learning circle” typifies all of the real-world experiences that touch our students, including service learning, study abroad, internships and the day-to-day application of new knowledge to their lives and work.  Each experience is enriched by reflection that allows students to integrate new understandings into the way they think and the way they make decisions.  In fact, this is the University at its best, modeling how education and understanding act to reshape the way our students see and act in the world.  In this way we prepare our graduates for life-long learning in a changing world.

The Holocaust Oratorio study tour was a milestone in the history of St. Cloud State University…a great achievement and a life-changing experience for hundreds of participants and members of the many audiences that were touched by their performances.  It was also an expression of the most basic values of this University.  Experience must be mined for understanding and new understanding should shape future choices.  I am proud of the faculty, staff, students and community partners who created this remarkable event.  They have demonstrated all that is wonderful about your University.

Published in the Fall 2008 issue of Outlook magazine.