Connecting Theory and Practice: Evaluating professional outcomes for alumni of the Smithsonian-Mason Semester for Conservation Studies

Stephanie Lessard-Pilon, Sunmbal Abbasi, Anneke DeLuycker, Jim McNeil

Session Information

Year: | Time: 4:15pm-5:45pm (Poster Session) | Location: (Fenwick 2nd Floor) Poster Session

Abstract

Since its beginning in 2008, the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation has offered semester-away programs for undergraduates by integrating hands-on, multidisciplinary study with topic-focused case studies.  Our courses emphasize experiential, solution-oriented learning and integrate Mason and Smithsonian researchers and experts into our teaching. 

Our first objective was to evaluate the students’ learning gains in the semester program, using data generated from student learning evaluations from 2008 to the present.  Next, we investigated long-term career development outcomes in our alumni, specifically focusing on how well our programs prepare them to find employment in the field of conservation and/or engage with current problems in conservation.  We contacted 50 Semester alumni to follow up on their progress and professional growth since matriculation from our program.   The initial findings demonstrate significant growth in learning between pre- and post-tests.  The follow-up interviews indicate that most alumni are using the skills they developed in the semester in their professional careers and have incorporated conservation principles into their daily lives.  Next steps include a formal analysis of the interviews, with a focus on understanding the role of research experiences in students’ professional development and an eye towards developing new programs that best serve our students’ needs.

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