What do you want to be when you grow up? And if you’re doing it, what did you do to get there? How did you know it’s right for you?
The number of opportunities after graduation feels limitless to many students. But opportunity can also feel daunting. How do you know that your passion and abilities will translate to the real world? For many students, that answer lies not in the classroom, but in the community, where it takes the form of internships, research, service learning, and global and leadership opportunities.
It’s through these activities, dubbed Experiential Learning, that students are exposed to people and circumstances different than their own and through which they discover the relevance of learning – and more about themselves.
Public health alumna Aubree Olmstead, BS ’15, experienced this firsthand. In her final term, she completed a required 360-hour internship at Columbia Basin Care, a skilled nursing facility in The Dalles, about a half hour from where she grew up in Hood River.
For Aubree, the internship wasn’t just another box to check. “I looked at it as a chance to see if I liked the field and to hone in on my skill set.”
“I tell students to be open to all possibilities,” says Karen Elliott, who teaches a pre-internship course and assists in helping students find internships throughout the state and sometimes internationally. “When you stop thinking about a grade or credits and ask yourself, ‘What do I want to do?’, you discover amazing things about yourself, what fuels your fire and what gets you going.”
Aubree took that advice. The first Beaver alum in her family, she also credits professors and instructors, including Karen, who brought their passion and real-world experience to the classroom.
A little over halfway through her internship at Columbia Basin, Aubree was offered an Administrator in Training (AIT) position – 960 hours of training under the supervision of a preceptor – with the understanding that she would become administrator after completion. During that time, she worked to gain a diverse understanding of operations, covering areas such as leadership and management, quality of care, human resources, finance, and the physical environment.
The 22-year-old successfully completed both her internship and AIT and has served as executive director since May 2016, managing 100-plus employees in the 90-bed facility.
“My roles tie directly into what I studied while at Oregon State,” Aubree says. “I truly believe my education and degree gave me a competitive advantage and the knowledge I need to ensure I am successful as I move throughout my career.”
That’s music to Karen’s ears. “It’s truly rewarding to see students excel and be involved in this process that can be life changing,” she says.
To ensure that all students get this same opportunity to succeed, the college initiated a series of changes in 2015 that began with the creation of its Office of Student Success.That change transformed the academic advising office into a hub of services that support students, including study abroad, career and professional development, peer advisors and an internship coordinator. The team, led by Associate Dean for Student Success Vicki Ebbeck, is working to increase the college’s number of experiential learning opportunities, including new experiences in the Dominican Republic, Bangalore and Botswana. These experiences add to its existing programs, such as with Fu Jen Catholic University in Taiwan, the longest faculty-led program at Oregon State.
Experiential learning promotes student success, Vicki says. “Research shows that students are more likely to persist with their studies and improve their academic performance, and that every student benefits – especially historically underserved students. The key is to engage all students in these high-impact practices that can be transformative.”
Aubree’s advice for current students is to see college and the path after graduation as an opportunity for growth. “Look outside your comfort zone, explore options, set goals, value your time, identify a role model or mentor and take chances,” she says, “but most of all respect yourself and those around you.”
She puts her advice into practice daily, whether it’s overseeing departments, managing employees, staying within budget, working with local hospitals and physicians, or staying on top of a stream of new rules and changing regulations.
“There is always something to be learned and something to be improved upon,” Aubree says. “I enjoy working with diverse groups and finding ways to encourage, lead and manage my staff. Knowing what makes them ‘tick’ is important, and I think that’s what excites me most. Fostering a positive environment truly creates increased success and happiness all the way to those we interact with and have the opportunity to serve.”