Long-term learning gains and career development in Smithsonian-Mason semester alumni

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

Session Information

Year: 2017 | Time: 1:00pm-2:30pm | Location: SCHOLARSHIP OF TEACHING & LEARNING (SoTL) LIGHTNING TALK & ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION: Johnson Center (Room D)



This session will discuss the results of an assessment of the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation semester programs for undergraduate research, particularly how experimental education and student-driven research can expand student perspectives and lead to professional and personal opportunities for student growth and development.


FULL ABSTRACT: Since its inception in 2008, the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation (SMSC) has offered semester programs for undergraduates that integrate hands-on, multidisciplinary study with topic-focused case studies. Our courses emphasize experiential, solutions-oriented learning and include Mason and Smithsonian researchers and experts in our teaching. In order to evaluate the effectiveness of our programs, including preparing alumni to find employment in the field of conservation and/or engage personally with conservation issues, we performed an assessment of the long-term learning gains and career development outcomes of program alumni. To evaluate these alumni perspectives, we performed a series of telephone interviews with 50 alumni from program years 2008 to 2015. Interview data were analyzed using grounded theory methodology (Saldana, 2008), which begins with generative questions about the data and leads to the development of theories of the data that are grounded in evidence from the interviews. Major findings from interview data indicate that experiential education, an emphasis on student-driven research, and a multi-disciplinary approach to conservation expanded student perspectives and led to professional and personal opportunities in the field of conservation after their departure from our programs. Specifically, alumni are using the skills they developed in the semester in their professional careers and have incorporated conservation principles into their daily lives. The results of this analysis will inform the curricular development in our upcoming programs as we implement additional semester programs and short summer courses over the upcoming academic year. 


Saldana, J. (2008). Coding manual for qualitative researchers. Book. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.

For more information about experiential learning: https://stearnscenter.gmu.edu/teaching/experiential-learning


assessment; research experiences for undergraduates


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