Nebraska college students trading four walls for two wheels

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May 19, 2011 - 7:00pm

If you're thinking about going to college - or know someone who is - consider this: opportunities outside the classroom. After all, college is a lot more than books and lectures.

The traditional college experience is a lot like the clich : students sitting in rows of desks and chairs facing a teacher standing next to a whiteboard - or chalkboard if you're older. The lecture of the day deals with the microcosm of society under dictatorial rule. It doesn't really matter: you had 100 pages to read last night and instead you watched the debut of The Voice.

But there are many in academia who feel there is so much more to the college experience.

This summer a dozen or so students from Doane College in Crete are riding bikes through Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic. Some are journalism students, others are not. But all will be practicing the art of reporting as they interview people from other countries, shoot video, make photographs and blog - it's like an internet journal that everyone gets to read - about their experience.

The 15-day trip is the practical application of what was learned in the classroom.

"One of the wonderful things about academia is that you learn through experience," said David Swartzlander, assistant professor of journalism and media at Doane. "Why not learn that way? Why do you have to learn everything in a lecture hall? This is a way to learn the reality of what's happening."

Doane is not the only college to offer this type of experience. In fact, nearly every college in Nebraska offers some type of outside-the-classroom experience. For example students from Wayne State College have studied Spanish in Costa Rica; undergrads from Chadron State have learned about the wildlife in Argentina; and coeds from Midland University have distributed books in Africa. Not all offerings are international. Swartzlander, for example, has taken students to Washington, D.C. for three presidential inaugurations and traveled the Midwest with student sports reporters to cover Major League Baseball.

Regardless of the destination, he said there is solid academic justification for outside-the-classroom trips.

"You have students, many of them from rural Nebraska, most of them have not been overseas before," said Swartzlander. "This is a chance for them to experience new cultures, a chance for them to experience the world, a chance for them to see what life is like outside the United States."

"It's not really the classroom learning that's extremely important so much as the practical getting out, doing interviews, talking with people," said Lucas Farr, a journalism senior from Cheyenne, Wyo. "It's an experience that will probably enrich my education even more."

Amanda Boats and Lindsey Ravek are journalism majors at Doane. Boats is from Valparaiso, Neb., Ravek from Murdock, Neb. Both said this will be a working trip, a chance to hone their journalistic skills.

"You're always fearful, or a little bit fearful of what you don't know and it's once you dive in and figure out what it's like, it becomes less scary," Boats said.

"I'm looking forward to taking photos and maybe putting them together and maybe making some audio slideshows," said Ravek. "Maybe writing stories about any experiences that we have."

As in every college class, not every student is studying that particular discipline. Jason Helgrin is a senior from Neigh, Neb., majoring in history and political science. He sees working as a journalist for two weeks as a chance to benefit from learning outside the classroom.

"I think it's important to take advantage of these traveling opportunities just to broaden your horizons and kind of open your mind up a little bit," he said.

Swartzlander and his students leave May 21 for their trip, returning June 3. You may follow their adventure by reading their blog.

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