CLAS launching program to ensure every student engages in multiple high-impact educational experiences

The entrance to a building with the words Mackinac Hall over the entrance. A yellow art sculpture is near the entrance.

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences faculty and staff are developing a comprehensive program that ensures every student studying a CLAS major engages in multiple high-impact educational experiences that set them up for immediate and lifelong success.

The CLAS Voyage will embed into all CLAS academic programs at least two experiential learning opportunities, making them a necessary and foundational part of each student's education. Every student's education will also be bookended by specialized introductory and culminating learning experiences.

The planned launch is Fall 2025 for all incoming CLAS students. In the meantime, those in the college are developing the programs and partnerships that will support the effort. Board of Trustees members also heard a presentation about the CLAS Voyage at their most recent meeting. 

This effort builds on capstone courses and other experiential opportunities already offered in CLAS, where at least 56 percent of students say they are already involved in high-impact practices, said CLAS Dean Jennifer Drake. 

"Our goal is to scale and keep the promise to all students that they will have these kinds of experiences that are already of high value in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and are already highly integrated," Drake said. "The problem we're solving is closing the equity gap, ensuring that all students have access to these transformative experiences that the research shows will increase retention and will increase graduation rates."

A person smiles in a posed portrait.
Jennifer Drake, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Students will begin with an Embarking Experience, where CLAS will offer multiple academic first-year learning communities. They will also learn about developing an ePortfolio. Students will end their education with a capstone as they prepare for what's next and beyond.

Along the way, their high-impact learning experiences will include internships, community-based learning, study abroad, learning communities and course-based opportunities for independent scholarly and creative expression.

Ensuring those experiences for everyone means providing robust opportunities as well as helping to remove barriers that prevent some students from engaging in experiential learning due to financial constraints or other life circumstances, Drake said. That is why CLAS leaders are engaging with alumni and other supporters as well as seeking grants to help secure the initiative's equitability and sustainability.

The hub that supports the implementation of the CLAS Voyage is the newly created CLAS Center for Experiential Learning, led by Director Kris Pachla. That center will serve as a clearinghouse to connect faculty, campus and community partners, pilot and support high-impact practices and more.

An example of the type of program that will connect community partners with students through CLAS Voyage is the recently announced Laker Accelerated Talent Link, which will pair Grand Valley students with partner companies that will provide an enhanced co-op experience for students. The students will also earn a certificate in an area related to business or technology that best matches the employers’ needs. Five inaugural employer partners were part of the launch.

A person smiles in a posed portrait.
Kris Pachla, director of the CLAS Center for Experiential Learning

Pachla said the CLAS Voyage flows from signature components valued by CLAS faculty and staff: multidisciplinary education and high-impact experiential learning that is already happening, with a desire to expand those opportunities to students in all disciplines – and using creative approaches as necessary. 

"This really was a collaborative effort and outcome of a yearslong strategic planning process," Pachla said. "Stakeholders in the college came together to talk about what we're doing well, how we might be build on our assets within the college and what are some aspirations that we might have in order to align with the university's direction and strategic plan. We also were thinking about our students and our faculty as key to our success as a college."

The Voyage is an ambitious undertaking, given that CLAS has about 9,000 total undergraduate and graduate students studying a CLAS-based academic program, and about 3,000 incoming students each fall, Drake and Pachla said. They said the Voyage is only possible because it can build on significant CLAS-related learning experiences already in place.

A group of CLAS faculty fellows has provided critical insight and assistance in readying the program for its launch in 2025. Those faculty members are: Majd Al-Mallah, Bradford Dykes, Dawn Hart, Kristin Hedges, Melissa Morison and Len O'Kelly.


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