Learning by Doing: Experiential Learning a Key Part of the Holy Cross Experience

College aims for 100 percent student participation in outside-the-classroom programs
April 19th, 2018 by 

Loren Cass, dean of experiential learning and student success speaks before a class of students.
Loren Cass, dean of experiential learning and student success, says the goal is clear: 100% student participation in real-world experiences that will chart a path toward a career. Photo by Tom Rettig

Loren Cass, Holy Cross dean of experiential learning and student success, has a goal for students: Get involved early.

In this newly established role, Cass oversees no shortage of opportunities for students. In addition to the J.D. Power Center for Liberal Arts in the World, Cass is responsible for helming everything from academic, career development and advising programs to study abroad, curricular and co-curricular programs, such as health professions, and more.

“We’re trying to connect students to the experiences that are going to be the most relevant to them,” he says. “Our goal is to try to get every student engaged, to try to get them to understand the full range of opportunities that are available, to coordinate better across our programs and to really meet our students where they are.”

Support from Bob and Mickey Atchinson P05, 07 and the Power family has helped create opportunities for every student on Mount St. James. Part of a recent $2 million gift from the Atchinson family will support a career exploration structure that provides resources and tools to aid students’ career discernment, first through senior year. Included in those tools are Gallup’s CliftonStrengths for Students, an assessment tool that helps students identify their strengths in order to best utilize their talents and explore careers based on their skill sets, and E-Portfolios, a digitized portfolio of student work and skills that can be presented to prospective employers.

The Power and Atchinson families have a long history of helping the College shape its vision of experiential learning and career preparation. The Atchinsons saw firsthand the benefits of internship experience through their son’s Holy Cross experience. In 2007, they established a fund to provide financial support for students who intern at nonprofit agencies. Similarly, the Power family created the J.D. Power Worcester Internship Fund to support students interning in the Greater Worcester area.

“Get out there. Try these things out,” Cass says of the College’s myriad experiential learning offerings. “See what you like; explore your passions and abilities. Hopefully, these experiences will allow our students to chart a path toward the lives of meaning and purpose that we desire for them. We’re really talking about cultural change: Experiential learning should be a part of every student experience at Holy Cross.”

Cass expects 100 percent participation in experiential learning programs, up from about 60 percent this year, which, if achieved, will push students into new challenges.

“There are going to be failures,” he says. “But we want to speed the process up. We want students experiencing more in their first year so they have more time and more information to pursue appropriate experiential learning opportunities in subsequent years.”

And, in Cass’ estimation, any setbacks are temporary and worth the potential upside. He’s seen students return to campus after an internship or a semester away completely transformed.

“Their outlook on life is different,” he says. “Their understanding of their education and how their education connects to what they want to do is different. It’s pretty amazing to see the changes in students when they engage in some of these opportunities; they have the potential to be life transforming.”

Learn more about the J.D. Power Center for Liberal Arts in the World and its dynamic offerings below:

Written by Christopher Amenta ’06 for the Spring 2018 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.


About Holy Cross Magazine

Holy Cross Magazine (HCM) is the quarterly alumni publication of the College of the Holy Cross. The award-winning publication is mailed to alumni and friends of the College and includes intriguing profiles, make-you-think features, alumni news, exclusive photos and more. Visit magazine.holycross.edu/about to contact HCM, submit alumni class notes, milestones, or letters to the editor.

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