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 --

This spring, the Hindu Temple of San Antonio opened its doors to Trinity students. As a part of a mid-term project, groups of students enrolled in Dr. Randall Nadeau’s or Dr. Mackenzie Brown’s Asian Religions classes visited the beautiful hill-top temple for a Sunday morning worship service. The students then documented their experiences in a descriptive and analytical term paper.

The Hindu Temple of San Antonio

Maddie Kennedy ‘19 comments on the impact the temple visit had on shaping her understanding of the Hindu religion. Through the visit, she saw that “it’s very different to read about what Hinduism means to an entire religious group of people than it is to talk to an individual person and get their perspective… They taught us a lot about the many experiences that Hinduism has brought to their lives.”

At the temple, the students witnessed a puja ceremony, which they had learned about previously through their readings and lectures. For reference, the class’ textbook, Asian Religions: A Cultural Perspective, written by professor Dr. Nadeau, reads, “Offerings to the Hindu gods are made in a worship service (puja) conducted in a temple and presided over by trained priests. Devotees participate in these offerings with single-minded devotion.” Students were able to watch this service first-hand at the Hindu Temple of San Antonio. This experience provided them with more insight to the practices and meaning behind the Hindu worship services.

Students witnessed a puja ceremony on their visit

After the puja, the students had the opportunity to speak to the other attendees and leaders at the temple, and ask them any questions they may have had following the service.

Kennedy appreciated how welcoming and open the worshippers she spoke to at the temple were. She mentioned that “they were very appreciative of us coming, although we didn’t really do anything for them.” In fact, rather, Kennedy felt that the laypeople did much for the Trinity students. The leaders of the service offered the group a free lunch after the ceremony, in addition to conversing with them. Through her conversations with these worshippers, Kennedy learned “what morals were important to them, and what Hinduism meant to them”.

“It’s useful because there aren’t that many Hindus in the United States, so we may not have otherwise gotten the experience to meet people who could teach us about their perspective without this assignment.”

Kennedy is a first-year student studying Psychology and Spanish. She intends to continue her education after her undergraduate studies at Trinity, with goals of becoming an Occupational Therapist.

Kennedy comments on her experience at the temple

Although a deep understanding of the Hindu religion will not necessarily directly play into her future education and career, Kennedy feels that it will contribute to her appreciation of perspectives and cultures different from her own. She notes, “Because of classes like Asian Religions and other classes that I will take at Trinity, I will be able to experience the world in a different way, meet people, and allow my perspective to change. Although this may not help me in occupational therapy, it will help me in life.”

Kennedy feels that this project has challenged her previous view of Hinduism. She mentions that “Hinduism is misconstrued by a lot of people who haven’t been exposed to it much, and this is true for many other Eastern religions as well.” Projects such as this temple project are valuable as a tool for breaking down the stigmas that may be clouding our understanding of other cultures and beliefs.

The project also served to expand Kennedy’s horizons in her social and personal life. She stated, “I feel that I will enter new situations and experiences with less apprehension than before. I went into the temple visit worrying that I would be seen as an intruder, but that fear was appeased by how welcoming everyone was. This project helped me to take part in more new experiences in the future, even those that I at first would have been hesitant to involve myself in.”

“In classes, we get to learn things theoretically, but experiences like this, that Trinity encourages, allow you to put your learning into practice and see other people living an experience that you are learning about.”
By Mariah Wahl--

Megan Dolan ‘16 conducts her research in a unique type of lab, one that may not come to mind when hearing the word “research.” Dolan conducts her research In the Children’s Research Lab, a primary-colored room full of petite furniture and an enticing variety of games and toys. A psychology major, Dolan was awarded a Mach fellowship for senior research, one of only seven awarded across all Trinity University academic departments. This has given her the opportunity to work as a lab coordinator, overseeing the work of several other Trinity undergraduates as part of her research on verb learning in children between the ages of two and four years. Her work takes a specifically experimental approach to verb learning, but also considers how children learn words from more realistic events.

“Nouns are easier to learn, because nouns label concrete objects,” Dolan explains, “Verbs are more difficult to learn than nouns, because labeling relationships between objects is more abstract.”

Dolan’s hypotheses come out of the structural alignment theory, one of many different theories about how children might be learning verbs. The theory hypothesizes that when children see multiple examples of a verb, they compare different elements within those multiple uses of the verb, and that’s how they learn.

“If a three year old watches a mom eat, and another child eat, and a dog eat, they compare the different elements enacting the action in each scenario and come to some kind of conclusion-- that animate objects eat, for example.”

Megan’s specific study includes aspects of the environment in which a child would most likely learn an action: one with multiple, distracting actions occurring at the same time.

“Using the example of a father cooking in the kitchen, a child might see him chop a tomato, then fill a pot with water, then chop an onion, then wipe the counter. How do children know that these distracting actions are not connected or related to the target action of chopping?”

Dolan’s experiment uses eye-tracking software to see if children pay less attention to these distractions over time, when they learn that they are not important. The children watch a video on a television that’s connected to a laptop and an eye-tracking machine. While they watch, the software tracks their eye-movements and imports that information into the computer to create quantitative data than can then be analyzed.

“The children decrease their gaze duration for these distracting actions, showing that they are paying less attention to these distracting actions,” Dolan explains. “This way, our data can suggest how children adjust what they pay attention to as they learn a verb across situations.

The children in the lab are recruited from local daycares in San Antonio. Some of their work is done at nearby child care centers. Trinity students take the experiment materials to these centers and present them to children on site after receiving consent from their parents. She also recruits families to bring their children to Trinity. It’s harder to recruit children to come into the lab, but it’s often a rewarding experience for the children and their parents.

“It’s a fun, educational family outing to come into the lab,” Dolan says of the colorful, toy-filled space, “We play with the kids and get to know them as part of our research.”

For Dolan, the opportunity to work with kids is the most satisfying part of the job.

“Part of my job is simply to go and play with kids. Being able to work with young kids, coordinating with parents, teachers, and directors-- it’s all unique in undergraduate research, where most work is conducted using other undergraduate peers.”

With her Mach Fellowship award, Dolan was able to purchase a new iPad and television for the lab, and to attend the Cognitive Developmental Society Conference in October of 2015.
Eventually, Dolan would like to pursue a PhD in Clinical Psychology. The experience she has gained in this lab has prepared her to eventually work with children in a clinical setting.

Dolan is a native of Dallas, TX, where she attended Highland Park High School.