SHANE Perkins just returned from a 16-day trip to Indonesia, where he helped conduct marine, aerial and water quality surveys of coral reefs that surround Bunaken Island.
Perkins is one of several students in Northwestern Michigan College’s Marine Technology programme who made the trip to Bunaken National Park, putting everything they learned on the table in the capstone course.
“You can learn a lot of stuff in the classroom, but you really learn it out here,” says Perkins, waving his arm toward the Grand Traverse Bay.
Back in Indonesia their surveys may be used to prevent ships from damaging the coral reefs, which are also facing threats from climate change, overfishing and more.
Students attend an NMC Board of Trustees meeting to talk about their trip.
They describe not only dodging giant centipedes and sharing their beds with rats, but also using their skills and thinking on the fly to operate, repair and troubleshoot remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), unmanned aerial systems (UASs) and water quality sensors, while working in hot, humid, “real-world” conditions.
The two-week outing is an example of how the college’s Experiential Learning Program is permeating the culture at NMC.
But President Tim Nelson would like to see more.
“One of the things the whole college is working on is connecting students with area business,” Nelson says.
“More and more people are hiring our students because they want economic prosperity and we can supply workers who have those skills.”
A team made up of faculty and staff has been working for about a year on ways to better integrate experiential learning throughout the curriculum and to make it more consistent and better known to employers in the community, Nelson adds.
Other examples include the culinary programme, which has students visiting Italy to work on farms with chefs, learning things such as how to make cheese and how to use fresh food that is on hand in their cooking.
Culinary students have also partnered with business students and travelled to Ecuador, where they helped women set up small businesses to produce and sell things like jellies and jams.
Closer to home visual communications students work with local non-profits to design and create brochures, logos and websites.
“It’s relevant learning,” Nelson says.
“It’s not an exercise for the sake of exercise. They’re learning something.”
Instructors are becoming more like learning coaches, he notes, instead of just teaching at the front of a classroom.
Perkins spent 12 years in the US Army and was looking for a career in the ROV sector, which could be in the field of oil and gas, renewable energy or scientific research, he says.
He did some research before settling on the NMC programme and now needs three more classes in the fall to complete his bachelor’s degree.
“I think we’re entering a period where people want to do things in order to learn, versus learning and having to wait to do it,” says Nelson. — The Record-Eagle/ Tribune News Service