Experiential Learning Program Provides Students with Signature Experiences in the U.S.

Three years ago, photography Professor Nancy Floyd presented Jonathan Gayles, associate dean for undergraduate learning, with an idea to take her students to a place where they could not only learn lessons in a classroom but also experience the lessons for themselves.

Students at the Sant Khalsa Artist Presentation in Joshua Tree, CA. Photo Credit: A Journal of Desert Art, Design, and Ecology

Joshua Tree photography students at the Sant Khalsa Artist Presentation.
Photo Credit: A Journal of Desert Art, Design, and Ecology

From that initial meeting with Gayles, the College of Arts and Sciences domestic field school learning program was birthed.

The experiential learning program is the first of its kind at Georgia State University. Unlike study-abroad programs, all of the experiential learning programs are based in the U.S. Developers of the program believe that signature experiences, like those gained during a study abroad, can also be provided domestically.

“From the beginning, it sounded like a great idea,” said Gayles. “It was something that would really give students a chance to move outside of the classroom and learn photography in that rich environment, but as a college we really didn’t have processes to accommodate that kind of travel and learning. We needed to expand on our infrastructure and so I was able to secure some funding from the dean to run a pilot in 2015.”

Floyd’s photography course in Joshua Tree, CA was a part of that pilot.

“It was really fun,” said Floyd. “Their senses were amazed by what they heard, what they saw and what they smelled. Joshua Tree is a unique place. You almost feel like you’ve gone back to a pre-historic time.”

For three weeks, Floyd and nine of her students woke up at 6am daily to experience work and life in the desert. Studio time and meetings with local artists followed four-hour desert workdays. It was intense but well worth it, said Floyd.

“Working 8-hour days five days a week is like boot camp, but a good boot camp,” she said. “I think the willingness to explore new thing—to test the waters—empowers you. You can’t teach that kind of experience. They all said it changed their lives.”

Along with the Joshua Tree Photography Field School this summer, there will be seven other domestic field schools this academic year: three pilot spring break programs and four summer programs.

Here is a complete list of the courses:

  • English 4205A New York Publishing Field School is one of the first spring break field courses. Students will travel to New York to learn about the operations of the publishing industry, meeting with editors to discuss the latest trends in literary, digital and audio publishing.
  • Special Applications of Graphic Design is a spring break domestic field camp course. Students will spend their spring break in New York, visiting design studios, meeting with New York-based designers and alumni and ultimately gaining a deeper understanding of the design profession.
  • Designing Cities as a Collection of Spaces for People is one of the three spring break domestic field courses. Students will explore the issues and possibilities that define urban space, visiting urban centers designed by Duany Plater-Zyberk in Georgia and Florida.
  • The Earthworks, Sacred Sites and Land Use in the 21st Century Field School will occur in Ariz., N.M., Colo. and Utah. Students will spend 16 days traveling and visiting contemporary earthworks and ancient manmade and natural formations.
  • Immigrants and Refugees in Atlanta is a domestic field course based in Atlanta. The course is designed to expose students to the developing demographic communities in Atlanta, specifically working with the Center for Pan Asian Community Services, Inc., which serves two of the fastest growing racial-ethnic communities in Georgia: Hispanics and Asian Americans.
  • Judicial Process in the Field is an Atlanta-based field camp. While in the course, students will learn about the organization of the U.S. American courts. They will visit local state and federal trial courts to learn about the criminal and civil processes and observe oral arguments at the Georgia Court of Appeals, the Georgia Supreme Court and the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 11th
  • History, Architecture and Urban Planning is a course that will allow students to gain a better understanding of Atlanta through a comparison with the city of Chicago. Students will spend seven days in Chicago, where they will go on a number of museum visits, walking tours and organized excursions.

Students enrolled in field school courses can earn up to six credit hours. Registration is available through GoSOLAR.

“I hope the university follows the college’s lead in this regard and really tries to institutionalize these kinds of field schools,” said Gayles. “We have such a significant commitment to global learning. But, in my opinion, when you take a student and put them in a different environment in the United States that experience can be similar to a study abroad program. I’m from Southwest Atlanta, and if you would’ve taken me to Joshua Tree I might as well have been in another country.”