The Power of Experiential Learning Courses

Alexis Lenderman

My name is Alexis Lenderman and I’m from Flint, MI. I actually started my college career at the University of Michigan-Flint studying accounting. In 2014, I decided to transfer to WMU to be closer to my foster parents and to join the Seita Scholars Program. For those that are unfamiliar with what that is, it is a program for foster youth in higher education.
Once I transferred, I joined the honors college and was exposed to a Study in the States course focused on entrepreneurship and startup communities taught by a former business professor. Before this, I’ve never been exposed to even the word entrepreneur, but this experience exposed me to an area that I just needed to know more about.

That summer, I joined a business accelerator program called Starting Gate which is offered free to WMU students, to work on my business idea that I also used as my honors thesis. I did this all while abroad on my first study abroad program to the Dominican Republic offered through the business college with an automatic $1,000 scholarship.

Too often, foster youth cannot see outside of their immediate circumstances. For someone like myself, the opportunity to studying abroad and participate in experiential learning activities allowed me to discover new and different capabilities that I would’ve never known because most of my life was focused on surviving.
During my time at WMU, my paradigm began to change, I began to thrive because of the network that the university provided and the culture of: “What can I do for You?”
After being encouraged to pursue big and bold dreams, I am now pursuing a dual degree in Entrepreneurship and Global & International Studies with minors in Nonprofit Leadership and Political Science. I will be going to Senegal over the summer making this my 7th study abroad trip, which is the record at WMU, I was chosen by our former president as the Newman Civic Fellow representing the University, I spent a semester in Washington D.C., and started my own business called the Scholarship Expert where I help other foster youth and first generation students gain access to funds for college.

From all of my experiences through WMU, I discovered a career that married all of my passions and studies: International development focusing on child welfare. Thanks to the Haworth College of Business, I was able to do things like attend the International Relations Career Challenge at Johns Hopkins University in DC, speak at the first WMU Night of Excellence during homecoming week, and participate in highly competitive programs like the Public Policy and International Affairs Public Service Weekends at Georgetown and the University at Albany in New York.

From WMU’s culture of “What Can I do for You?” I was intentional about thinking of ways I can impact the world around me. With three other students, one of which is a business student as well, we are creating the first entirely student-led leadership program with a foreign service component. Think of it as a mini peace corp.
Even though, as you can imagine, this isn’t a “business” program, we can see the direct value in having business students gain international experience, empathy for other cultures, and working in dynamic environments. We have received overwhelming support from Western but more specifically the business college because they also recognize the impact something like this, service learning at it’s core – is a benefit to the students but also to our communities. Today, we accepted 22 of the best students at WMU into our program and over the summer, we will all be traveling to Lesvos, Greece to implement each of our projects in a refugee camp.

Experiential learning programs like this are critical for developing life-long learners and students are yearning for opportunities like this every day because it pushes the status quo of what a higher education institution is and should offer to its students.

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