The Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education (ALCE) has been actively engaged in the Bridge Experience Program, offering valuable resources to enhance student experiences. With a focus on creating open resources for faculty and setting up consistent communication touchpoints with students throughout the curriculum, ALCE aims to provide a comprehensive and supportive educational journey.

The ALCE curriculum includes two courses, LDRS 1414 and ALCE 3004, that serve as foundational touchpoints for bridge experiences. Donna Westfall-Rudd, associate professor, and Logan Layne, graduate student, developed modules introducing bridge experiences in these early courses. For mapping curriculum and creating effective communication touchpoints with students, Donna emphasized the importance of meeting students at their current knowledge level. Collaboration with faculty and students helped ensure the material fits well across the two courses. Teaching the lessons in class allowed Logan to address student questions, which influenced the inclusion of specific requirements of the Bridge program, such as hours needed and what counts for an experience.

Donna emphasized the importance for students to be aware of bridge experiences during their first year on campus. The first class is focused on overall importance and exploration. More detailed information is presented in their second or third year, with a 3000-level course providing an opportunity for students to draft potential bridge experience plans. Students can search for experiences in both courses, and Logan offered this approach to motivate students further and build excitement for bridge experiences.

ALCE faculty members are encouraged to meet with new students in groups to share their research interests and backgrounds, encouraging students to connect with their advisors for bridge experience ideas. The department has also integrated more information about undergraduate research into ALCE 3004. This effort increases transparency and helps students better know the faculty in the department.

Faculty can access and use open educational resources created by ALCE for the Bridge Experience Program through VTechWorks.

ALCE modules

How students benefit

Students receive information about bridge experiences early in their academic careers to help with planning. In addition, students complete 16 hours of community service in ALCE 3004 to explore possible bridge experiences and learn more about the types of work they are and are not interested in pursuing. The early communication and experience help students begin thinking about what type of experience they might want to pursue and know how to find these opportunities. Additional information on their website makes the process more transparent and equitable for students.

Looking ahead, ALCE continues to use Giving Day to support student scholarships for bridge experiences. Many of their students intern with non-profits or school districts, and these experiences are often unpaid. Providing scholarship support will help reduce barriers for students and ensure equitable access to opportunities.

Why bridge experiences

The Agricultural Sciences degree already has a 3-credit experiential learning requirement. According to Donna, “The students in ALCE have shared with us that the bridge experiences are important in helping them figure out the career options that best align with their talents and skills. Many of our students are looking at multiple opportunities after graduation. Experiencing an internship before graduation allows them to confirm their preference for their first job experience. The reflection and evaluation assignments required in the bridge program give them the structure to organize their reflections on their experiences.”  

Written by Nidhi Chopdekar and Heather Bradford