Experiential learning encompasses any activity in which a student is actively engaged in their education inside or outside of the classroom. At Trinity, experiential learning includes undergraduate research opportunities inside and outside of the classroom, volunteer experiences, internships, study abroad opportunities, and more.

By Claire Burrus —

Accompanied by professor of biology Kelly Lyons, professor of political science, Dr. Katsuo Nishikawa, and artist Stuart Allen, a group of 17 Trinity students from various departments studied in and visited Havana, Cuba for two weeks at the end of their mid-year winter break. After a semester of preparing for the program, the students enjoyed a fun and enlightening experience abroad, unmatched by a classroom learning environment.

Trinity students display their tiger pride in Havana. Photo courtesy of Stuart Allen
First year student Olivia Roybal ‘19 used the program as an opportunity to explore her broad range of interests, and has come out on the other side with a clearer idea of what areas she would like to further study.

“I knew I liked plant biology, but I didn’t know that I was as interested in agriculture as I am before I went to Cuba. I’m also more jazzed to take Spanish classes now because I can see how useful that skill would be.”

The multidisciplinary program exposed students to all that Cuba had to offer. The students were able to receive course credit for the program in many areas, including biology, environmental studies, political science, business, and economics.

Roybal recalls her experience in Cuba
Roybal commented on the effectiveness of Cuba as a destination when studying the topic of sustainability: “Industrialization has a big impact on the environment, and Cuba is such a small island that it’s easy to see these relationships [there].” Due to the physical isolation of the island and the political isolation of its economy, Cuba is an ideal case study for environmental issues.

“In the 90s, Cuba’s economy crashed after the fall of the Soviet Union. Because of that, [Cuba] couldn’t industrialize, so their farming is more sustainable [than that of the US] because it’s non-industrial.”

The students explored these issues in depth over the course of the program, visiting many farms, studying various agricultural methods, and even dropping by the botanical gardens and taking some lessons in ecology. 

Organic farm in Vinales, Cuba
However, the program material did not merely consist of the study of Cuba’s environment and economy. The politics of the country were also investigated. At the faculty's behest, students interviewed the Cuban population to learn more.

“Every once in awhile our professors would drop us off in Havana somewhere and we would have 30 minutes to an hour to go talk to Cuban people and ask them questions.” She recalls interviewing Cubans on topics ranging from internet use to freedom of speech to issues involving the US embargo in Cuba, which Cubans call ‘the blockade’.

This experience was useful in that it forced her to develop the ability to talk to complete strangers in addition to giving her information for her studies. In a country under a Communist regime, Roybal noted, there were many differences from the United States. 

Roybal also remarked that these differences extended beyond her academic work in the program. Her experience in Cuba made her more aware of the consumerism culture in the U.S. “Cuban people own less stuff. In America, if people have too much stuff they pay for storage. Cubans are still happy, intelligent people without all of this.”

Roybal enjoyed the cultural immersion aspect of the abroad experience. When asked about a favorite memory, she she expressed her enjoyment of the live music they saw and recounted some concerts that the group attended. She also noted that the Cuban people are very friendly, and contrary to popular belief, are quite receptive to Americans. Speaking to Cubans directly broke any stigmas about their culture that she may have had.

Overall, the experience was highly impactful for Roybal and she remembers it as a positive experience. “[Programs like this] are a really valuable learning tool.”
By Mariah Wahl

This winter break, 12 Trinity students travelled to London for an immersive course comparing the culture of athletics in the United States and the United Kingdom. The course was taught by Paul McGinlay, Trinity University’s men’s soccer coach, and Jacob Tingle ‘95, director of experiential learning and the sport management minor.

One student, Bria Woods ‘16, describes the experience as “eye-opening-- sports management is a whole different world!”

A communication major and film studies minor, Woods was outnumbered by sports management minors on the trip. Still, she felt immediately immersed in the world of London’s sports. 

Students from the Sport in London course. Woods sits second from the left. 

“I didn’t expect the kind of access we had to the stadiums we visited. In the UK, more so than here in the states, you can step into the shoes of your favorite player. You can go into the locker room, see where they shower and suit up. In the United States they’re more protective of that space.”

Woods and the rest of her class had the opportunity to visit stadiums for a variety of different sporting events. They visited Twickenham Rugby Stadium, Lord’s Cricket Ground, the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (better known as Wimbledon), Wembley Stadium, the home of the English National Football team, and Emirates Stadium where Arsenal Football Club plays (Note: football in this context is not the sport that features Peyton Manning). 

Visiting Emirates stadium. 

The group was even able to watch a football match at Loftus Road Stadium, between Queens Park Rangers and Hull City.

“It’s a very different fan experience. For fans in the UK it is all about the game. Any time a good play is made, people applaud. There’s not just cheering when your team scores; they care about the quality of playing.”

The group at Lord's field.

The class will spend the rest of the semester examining the differences between player development, sport media, and fandom in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Woods’ time in London this winter break, along with a semester spent abroad there, has ignited a passion for travel in the San Antonio native. Woods hopes to continue spending time in London, having applied to the University of Westminster there. She hopes to pursue a master’s degree in multimedia and broadcast journalism.

Learn more about experiential learning at Trinity University by clicking here.