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HPU’s Experiential Learning: Finding the ‘Real’ in Life

Apr 06th, 2018

HPU’s Experiential Learning: Finding the ‘Real’ in Life

Talk to any student or any professor at HPU. The word “real” comes up often.

For the past decade, HPU has made sure a quarter of everything taught has an experiential component because professors want their students to stretch themselves, work in the community and find out firsthand what real means.

Students then discover that experience is the best teacher, and with the university’s opportunities for internships, study abroad and research, they graduate prepared and ready to go.

Statistics back that up. Six months after graduation, 96 percent of all HPU graduates have a job or are enrolled in graduate school.

But competition always awaits.

This year, colleges and universities nationwide are expected to hand out nearly 2 million bachelor degrees, and more graduates mean HPU graduates face more competition for jobs and slots in graduate school.

So, how can HPU differentiate its students from a crowd of competitors?

Start with Dr. Stephanie Crofton.


‘What The World Needs’

Dr. Stephanie Crofton

For 11 years, as the associate dean of HPU’s Phillips School of Business, Crofton helped guide students. She does that still – except on a bigger stage.

In June, Crofton became the university’s first vice president of experiential learning and career development, and she now oversees the offices critical in helping students thrive in college and afterward.

An educator for the past two decades, Crofton has a raft of ideas.

She wants to create international internships and get students more connected with their success coaches and the university’s career advisors to help students find opportunities — and ultimately careers — that fuel their passion and curiosity.

Then, there is Project Discovery. It’s a new eight-step process that enlists professors, staff and students to help students find their academic focus early.

With this web of support, Crofton says students can get the experience they need to become better communicators, researchers and solution finders – top skills employers and graduate schools look for in the people they select.

Academic studies show hands-on learning leads to a deeper understanding about the importance of knowledge – and failure. But studies also show students become more resilient by learning from their mistakes and moving on.

That lesson, Crofton says, is crucial in life.

“I always tell college students failure is a part of real world, and when you learn how to handle it, fix it and move on, you gain the confidence and courage you need in whatever you do,” she says.

“And for our students, that’ll lead to better jobs and better placement and make them better employees and better citizens,” she says. “They won’t shy away from problems.  They’ll say, ‘OK, let’s keep going.’

“That is what the world needs. That stick-to-it-ness.”


Holly Llewellyn (left) and Francesca Callahan (right) work with members of Ascension 336.

The Electric Spark of Hands-On Learning

It’s a Wednesday, the first day of Professor John Mims’ communication class, and Francesca Callahan and Holly Llewellyn step up front and begin.

“Welcome, you’ve all been hired,” says Llewellyn, a senior from Glenview, Illinois. “This is your first day on the job.”

Both Callahan and Llewellyn are strategic communication majors, and they help lead HPU’s student-run communication agency, Ascension 336.

They both took Mims’ practicum class last semester. They came back this semester because they learned so much last fall by working with real clients with real requests.

Llewellyn is the president of Ascension 336; Callahan, the vice president. They’ll assist their classmates with everything from branding to social media as they all work with a dozen non-profits in the High Point area.

 “I don’t look at it as a class,” says Callahan, a senior from Naples, Florida. “I look at it as a real firm with real employees and real things to do for real clients. And it’s so hands on that it forces you to get it together and figure it out.

“It speaks to me so much because there is so much to learn, to be and do.”

This spring, HPU senior Riccardo De Cataldo will realize those same lessons – but in a 24-passenger van wrapped in purple.

Riccardo De Cataldo

The van has been converted into a traveling classroom known as the Mobile Community Lab, and it’ll become a visible symbol of the university’s growth into a science powerhouse in higher education.

De Cataldo and his classmates will conduct experiments with local students and show them how relevant science can be. But for De Cataldo, that’s not all.

De Cataldo, a biochemistry major from High Point, wants to become a doctor. He took Dr. Veronica Segarra’s biology class because its service-learning component would help him work with future patients.

De Cataldo says the lab builds his confidence.

Corbin Elliott, an HPU sophomore, says a long drive several times a week builds his.

For three months, Elliott car-pooled nearly two hours one way to Raleigh to prepare for the North Carolina debut in late January of “Rigoletto,” a production of the North Carolina Opera.

Corbin Elliott, far right, performed in “Rigoletto.” He’s pictured with HPU freshman Jerry Hurley, far left, and award-winning opera singer, Joseph Dennis. 

Elliott will sing with the production’s ensemble. But that’s not the best part. Thanks to the long drive, Elliott gets career advice from the professionals in the car and the world’s best opera singers onstage.

Elliott wants to do what they do. Scott MacLeod helped make that opportunity happen.

MacLeod is Elliott’s vocal professor at HPU. He’s also the chorus master for the North Carolina Opera. So, he recruits his best vocal students to sing for the North Carolina Opera.

Like Elliott, a native of Salisbury, North Carolina, majoring in vocal performance.

 ‘These are huge formative years,” MacLeod says, “and college plays a big part of getting them to understand how they can contribute to the world, question their place in the world and allow them the chance to explore themselves.

“Then, they can really imagine the people they are destined to become.”

Many HPU graduates do find their destiny. Here are two.


A Constant HPU Lesson: Go For It

HPU grad Grace Weaver is the marketing coordinator for Badlands, a nature-inspired startup in Maryland. She says: “I get to throw out my ideas and get creative. I love it.”

Grace Weaver took a risk. Roxanne Daneman is taking a risk.

They’re both 23, HPU grads immersed in life after college.

Weaver holds an undergraduate and master’s degree from HPU in strategic communication. She’s the marketing coordinator for a startup in Rockville, Maryland, known as Badlands. It’s a nature-inspired place covering 30,000

square feet.

When she started in April, Badlands had 10 employees. Badllands now has 70. Weaver steers all the marketing, all the social media. She learned how at HPU by working with three local non-profits.

“At High Point, we created whole marketing plans,” Weaver says. “Now, I get to create my own.”

HPU grad Roxanne Daneman has moved to NYC to pursue an acting career after working in plays and musicals around her hometown of Baltimore. In this photo, she plays Luisa in “The Fantasticks” at the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company.

For the past year, Daneman has acted in six plays and musicals in and around her hometown of Baltimore. Now, she’s moved to New York City.

She has an apartment, working actor friends from HPU and contacts like acclaimed playwright John Cariani, who she worked with at HPU.

She also has courage. Her alma mater gave her that. She taught classes and performed in Costa Rica, and she performed and worked in 15 productions on campus.

“When people ask me where I went to school, I say High Point University proudly,” says Daneman, a 2106 HPU graduate with degrees in music and theater. “And when I do, I’ll hear, ‘It’s really pretty there.’ But I always tell them that the education is far more beautiful than the school.”