Experiential learning is a type of learning that involves practical experiences and reflection. It is a student-centered approach that engages students in real-world problem-solving and hands-on activities. Because students in the veterinary medicine and animal science fields must develop practical skills and gain experience working with animals to succeed in their academic and professional careers, the hands-on experience acquired through experiential learning is particularly important.
While experiential learning is important for everyone, it is especially beneficial for first-generation college students and students from groups that have been traditionally underrepresented in veterinary medicine and animal science disciplines. Because these students often have had limited previous exposure to careers in these fields, one of the most significant benefits of experiential learning for these students is that it increases confidence and self-efficacy. When students engage in hands-on activities and solve real-world problems, they gain a sense of accomplishment and mastery that can boost their self-esteem. In a recent study, an immersive field trip involving the beef cattle industry was statistically shown to increase the sense of belonging among Hispanic and Black agricultural science students. According to the study, in disciplines where certain groups are underrepresented, experiential learning can make students feel more at home in their discipline (See Drewery, et al., 2023).1
Experiential learning can also help to break down barriers and promote diversity in the veterinary medicine and animal science fields. When students from diverse backgrounds work together on hands-on projects, they learn from each other’s perspectives and experiences. This type of learning helps create a more inclusive and supportive environment, which benefits all students. Experiential learning can also help bridge the gap in academic and professional opportunities for those who have had limited exposure to the field and provides opportunities for students to network with faculty and industry professionals, thereby increasing their prospects for future careers (See Bowhay, et al., 2022).2 Employers in the veterinary medicine and animal science fields are looking for candidates who have practical skills and experience. Experiential learning can provide students the opportunity to develop the contacts, skills, and experience they need to stand out in a competitive job market.
Experiential learning is a crucial aspect of education and can be particularly important for students from groups that are typically underrepresented in the veterinary medicine and animal science fields. This type of learning can provide students with practical skills, increase their confidence and self-efficacy, promote diversity and inclusion, and prepare them for the workforce. Experiential learning opportunities should be prioritized for all students, particularly those from underrepresented groups, to ensure they have the tools and resources they need to succeed.
1 Merritt L Drewery, Jade V Cooper, Tina M Waliczek, Tryon A Wickersham, An immersive field trip focused on beef production increases the sense of belonging in ethnoracial minority college students, Translational Animal Science, Volume 7, Issue 1, January 2023, txad001, https://doi.org/10.1093/tas/txad001
2 Bowhay CM, Wickersham TA, Richardson R, Dunlap KA. Texas panhandle beef production tour, a high-impact compressed course in animal science. Transl Anim Sci. 2022 May 4;6(2):txac054. doi: 10.1093/tas/txac054. PMID: 35669948; PMCID: PMC9162385.