The importance of independent study and experiential learning

Catherine Enos – Opinions editor

As a senior in college, the prospect of having a career or going to graduate school (or any other post-undergraduate program) in the near future can be intimidating. How do I know what I’m going to do in the future? Where do I want to start a career? The action I took to achieve these answers was to conduct an independent study in one of my majors.

In the fall of 2016, I switched one major from biology to political science. Academically, this was the best decision I ever made. There’s never a boring day in political science. Since then, however, I’ve been struggling with deciding what I want to do after college. I knew that I didn’t go into this major wanting to be a politician, nor was I interested in working in an administrative position. For me, it’s always been between law school or graduate school. I’ve gone to school tours, read books and copious amounts of student accounts on “what law school is like” or “what graduate school is like,” but these are all subjective. So I decided to work on an independent study.

I’m only a semester into the project (about halfway through), but I’m glad that I made this decision. Although an independent study is probably not very similar to graduate-level studies and won’t show me the exact experience of graduate school, it’s helped me take a closer look at the areas I find interesting.

The experience has also shown me that I really enjoy learning. When you’re doing an honors project, you have an advisor who guides your work but, ultimately, a student has to have enough interest and self-discipline to go forward with the project and get things done. It’s a different experience from a typical lecture.

It’s also an experience that reflects well on the student conducting the project, the department the project comes from, and the college as a whole. Rhode Island College has this great (albeit inescapable) reputation as a college for educators, but has been trying to expand its image as a university for decades. These type of experiential learning projects, such as independent studies and internships, create graduates that go onto careers in which they may be leaders in their fields.

How great would it be if RIC was known as both a great teaching school and a great research school? Perhaps the answer to “rebranding” RIC is in encouraging students to participate in experiential learning.