CEHD faculty awarded three WMU grants to enhance experiential learning programs

Contact: Chris Hybels

KALAMAZOO. Mich.—Western Michigan University's College of Education and Human Development's (CEHD) faculty were recently awarded three grants from the University to start and strengthen experiential learning programs, an integral part of Western's identity. These hands-on programs bridge the gap between classroom knowledge and professional application, preparing students for careers and strengthening industry connections.

CEHD was awarded two types of the experiential learning grants announced during President Montgomery's 2023-24 State of the University address—accelerator and incubator grants. The Experience-Driven Learning Accelerator Grant will provide financial resources for well-established programs to scale up their impact on students. Meanwhile, the two Experience-Driven Incubator Grants aim to assist emerging programs in establishing a strong foundation.

"These grants emphasize the University’s commitment to supporting students as they engage in valuable, real-world learning experiences," says Dr. Laura Dinehart, dean of the College of Education and Human Development. "I want to congratulate the faculty recipients for their dedication to enhancing student learning."


Carly Smith, a family science and human development student, during her internship at one of the Kalamazoo Youth Development's after-school care programs.

Family science and human development (FSHD) faculty from CEHD's Department of Family and Consumer Sciences are looking to better support their students' well-being during professional working experiences by addressing three need-based priorities:

  • Expanding community-based research experiences and partnerships.
  • Developing subsidized internship opportunities.
  • Promoting skills and strategies for personal and professional well-being in the helping professions.

In addressing the first priority, the department will be creating two student research internship positions supervised by Dr. Antoinette London-Johnson Wright, associate professor of family science and human development. Students will dive into community-based research projects that'll boost their grasp of family science and human development research, while honing soft skills, such as effective communication and collaboration, and hard skills, including recruitment and data collection) skills working with diverse individuals and families.

To support the second priority to develop subsidized internship opportunities, faculty will be piloting and studying newly funded internships. With partnering organizations hosting the internships, they hope to identify models and avenues for sustainable future funding for internships. The priority will be funding three internships at the Kalamazoo Youth Development Network and four with organizations within the network.

In promoting self-care among students during their learning experiences, outlined in the third priority, faculty will soon begin incorporating Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) into student internship courses. During their internships, students will be guided by a MBSR trained faculty to help them learn mindfulness skills and incorporate those skills into their daily lives. Faculty are also hoping to conduct research as students go through MBSR to measure stress before and after training to study its effectiveness among FSHD students.

 "The funding received has the potential to notably impact our local community and certainly FSHD interns," says Dr. Suzan Smith-Ayers, chair of the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences.  


Dr. Luchara Wallace

In conjunction to her position as CEHD's associate dean, Dr. Luchara Wallace, serves as the director of Western's Walker Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnic Relations. In this role she supports the institution's mission to teaching and researching race and ethnic relations and promoting social justice through applied research and community service projects. As part of the mission, the institute is expanding its collaboration with the Lee Honors College for its existing experiential learning Study in the States course, Idlewild: The Emergence, Decline, and Revitalization of the Historic African-American Lake Community Known as the Black Eden.

The course takes student to Idlewild, a historic Black resort community in northern Michigan that thrived during segregation. Through engagement with residents, students learn why the resort was pivotal to African American cultural and leisure experience during the Jim Crow era. 

After a successful first year, residents expressed interest in engaging further with Western to address two of their priorities: youth development and improved community infrastructure. Through funding from the incubator grant, faculty and students will be responding to these community needs by developing History House Coffee (HHC) and an Idlewild boat tour experience.

History House Coffee, a mobile coffee business, will create summer employment for local youth and provide paid internship opportunities for WMU students during the summer. With prior experience working with small community businesses, the Lewis Walker Institute would train and supervise teens working at HHC, with interns who have an interest in the areas of entrepreneurship, marketing, business management, youth and community development, etc. Interns will also simultaneously be participating in professional development sessions offered by Broncos Lead.

In addition to HHC, they would be partnering with the Idlewild Community Development Corporation (ICDC) to develop a historical boat tour of Idlewild Lake. Students in a specific course will research and develop the historical descriptions and script for the tour, utilizing the ICDC's pontoon boat for guided tours. This project leverages the wealth of history around the lake and provides students with a valuable learning experience. 

"This is such an exciting, yet humbling opportunity. We are honored to be able to collaborate with the citizens and youth of Idlewild to develop opportunities for growth and community development. We are thrilled to be able to partner with the Lee Honors College and Broncos Lead programs to further engage students in a learning opportunity of a lifetime," says Wallace.


Dr. Kate LaLonde, professor of special education, pictured left, helps a Grow Your Own student from Van Buren Intermediate School District enroll for classes.

Launched in fall 2023, Western's innovative Grow Your Own (GYO) program tackles the national teacher shortage. Funded by a federal grant, the program works with school districts to attract and support their current employees aspiring to be teachers with fully covered tuition, fees and books. However, one of the partnering school districts, Van Buren Intermediate School District (VBISD), has identified a challenge: non-classroom employees may initially lack the experience of their peers.

To address this, a paid internship opportunity for students created by faculty within the Department of Teaching, Learning and Educational Studies has emerged. By leveraging a shorter summer school program, these employees will gain valuable experience by collaborating with certified teachers to complete a 60-hour paid internship in July.

This internship allows them to fulfill their desire for classroom exposure while addressing the initial disadvantage they face compared to their peers. Interns will be implementing lessons daily, with time to reflect on best practices and implementation of future lessons. 

"With the experience-driven education incubator grant and our collaborative relationship with the VBISD, we are able to offer up to 18 students the opportunity to apply their coursework content in classroom settings this summer, says Katherine Suender, faculty specialist I. "Additionally, three current students will act as support staff in leadership roles. These leaders hold established relationships within the VDISD districts and would be instrumental in ensuring placement, supervision and assessment of the interns."  

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