Science Teaching: Learning Beyond the Classroom

Author(s): Tim Brouk
Photographs by: Provided

The College of Science strives to educate its thousands of students in different ways. The college encourages undergraduates to learn outside of the lab and to try their skills in the real world.

Such activities often challenge students to develop new ways of thinking about and responding to novel circumstances. Though guidance from internationally renowned professors is crucial, value is added to degrees by helping students learn beyond the classroom and transforming the way they view themselves and navigate the world.

To help these students develop into more wellbalanced scientists and global citizens, the College of Science implemented the Learning Beyond the Classroom initiative in 2011. The program promotes
professional development, diversity and leadership.

More than 300 students currently are involved in Learning Beyond the Classroom and about 40 have completed their certificate. Students receive points for participating in various activities like study
abroad, tutoring, research, service learning, internships, and Global Partners and Global Dialogues –– College of Science programs aimed at increasing the understanding of the varying life experiences and values of students from around the world. The Learning Beyond the Classroom certificate designation is noted on students’ official transcripts, which is a plus when they apply for a job or to professional or graduate school.

On the following pages you’ll meet some science students who have completed their certificate. The experiences of these juniors and seniors vary greatly, but all are thankful for the push Learning Beyond the Classroom gave them toward opportunities they might have passed up before.

Alice Grasso

Alice Grasso
Alice Grasso at Stonehenge

On pace to graduate in only three years, Alice Grasso is pursuing her interdisciplinary science degree with the goal of becoming an optometrist.

Grasso interned for two summers at Family Vision Care in her hometown of Muncie, Ind. In 2012, she worked the front desk answering phones and adjusting eyeglasses but in 2013, Grasso finally got to use her science prowess by administering color blindness tests and those dreaded glaucoma tests that puff air onto the eyeball.

In her science research, Grasso counts oil droplets in the cones of bird retinas for biological sciences professor Jeffrey Lucas. This work aided her understanding of color blindness tests. She also took a visual studies class through the Honors College, which helped her off campus as well.

“The visual studies class was mainly based on interpretation of what we see,” Grasso states, “but we had a weeklong section on physiology of vision, especially color vision and cones.

“With optometry, there are many different fields you can go into. You don’t necessarily have to just do the yearly eye checkups for everyone. You can do research. You can work with kids and eye diseases. I like that there are so many different options there.”

She joined the Global Dialogues program to expand her world vision.

“Global Dialogues was a good experience to meet other students outside my comfort zone because I usually just talk to other students from the Midwest,” Grasso says. “There are a lot of volunteer opportunities with optometry so I could go to other countries and be more comfortable because of Global Dialogues.”

She tested that experience with Purdue excursions to London and Romania. The Romanian experience, she says, was “bloody” good. “It was a trip with the Honors College and we did a study tour of Dracula and the psychology of the supernatural.”

Arlie Lehmkuhler

Arlie Lehmkuhler during her internship at Cargill

Only a junior, Arlie Lehmkuhler has adopted a jet-setting lifestyle that has helped her earn her Learning Beyond the Classroom certificate quickly. An Indianapolis native, she has used almost every break available to her to study overseas or intern in her field.

Among her Learning Beyond the Classroom exploits: Lehmkuhler, a chemistry major, was the only College of Science student on a nutrition science trip to Riorges, France, to learn French cuisine and to help exercise her French minor.

“I really love food and cooking,” she says. “We learned about French and American diet and comparing the two. We studied obesity rates in each country.”

Then over spring break 2013, Lehmkuhler immersed herself in the culture of Amsterdam and Rotterdam, Netherlands.

“That trip was more about cultural awareness and it opened your eyes to see different perspectives, which you can really use in the workplace,” says Lehmkuhler, who is set to spend her spring 2014 semester in Lyon, France, as part of a direct exchange with CPE International, a chemistry, physics and engineering school. Lyon is near Riorges.

Though not as romantic as France or Amsterdam, a trip to Iowa may prove to be the most important for Lehmkuhler’s career. She worked in the lab of a Cargill plant that processed soybean distillate for vitamin E.

“I worked in quality management. I tested all of the tanks. We would make sure everything is running OK. We would test the material coming in,” Lehmkuhler remembers. “I just got so much hands-on experience. It was great. I just loved it.”

Yunkai Sun

Yunkai Sun

When Yunkai Sun arrived at Purdue from Beijing, one of his goals was to make sure he balanced his studies with activities outside of the classroom. His first step was attending the Learning Beyond the Classroom callout.

Now a computer science junior, Sun is extremely involved in numerous ventures.

“I have finished a lot of academic-related experiences and social-related experiences, like a summer full-time internship, working as a part-time software engineer, undergrad research, vice president of the Chinese Calligraphy Club, luncheon presentations about Chinese music in Global Café and joining the Buddhism learning group,” he says. “My LBC experience has made my college life more colorful and meaningful.”

Sun says Learning Beyond the Classroom not only propelled him to more activities but it also made him “think deeper” about them –– therefore getting more from the experiences.

An example, Sun had the Learning Beyond the Classroom reports in mind when he decided to volunteer for “Boiler Out,” a community service project led by Purdue international students. It was around Halloween and Sun’s first thought was how fun it would be to meet new people. But Learning Beyond the Classroom helped him understand the full meaning of volunteerism: giving back to the community, even if it’s an adopted one in West Lafayette.

“It was such a good feeling to join those volunteer works and pay back,” Sun says.

Rachel Svetanoff

Rachel Svetanoff
Rachel Svetanoff

This chemistry major didn’t need a passport for one of her favorite Learning Beyond the Classroom experiences. Rachel Svetenoff didn’t even have to gas up her car.

In April, she spearheaded a Purdue Relay for Life team that joined three groups that she belongs to –– Purdue Science Student Council (PSSC), the American Chemical Society (ACS) and the Purdue Student Pugwash Organization, which focuses on new scientific research and its possible social implications. Though PSSC and ACS have paired up before as had Pugwash and PSSC, the three entities
never had collaborated before.

Making it happen was hard work but the payoff was a huge point of pride for Svetanoff, a Valparaiso, Ind., native -- especially since it helped raise money for the American Cancer Society. The experience also made her switch her career goal from being a one-on-one practitioner to working on a larger scale in public health.

“I was thinking ‘Why can’t I do something like this for my career?’” recalls Svetanoff soon after the success of her Relay for Life team, The Big Bang Cure. The event had a television show theme so Svetanoff and her team of other Science students played off of the sciencecentric CBS hit sitcom, "The Big Bang Theory."

Now a senior, Svetanoff has realized the benefits of her time in the Learning Beyond the Classroom program.

“Beyond the science perspective, you grow as a person; you grow as an individual; you grow to be a team member of other organizations or other causes,” Svetanoff says. “I would definitely recommend the LBC to all students because it not only caters to what you’re involved in but it helps students gain skills that the classroom can’t provide such as communicative skills, networking and professionalism."