JOHNSTOWN - Some of the most significant learning during a person's education can be gained from hands-on experience rather than the pages of a book.
"When college is all said and done, most students will not remember what they learned in the classroom, but they always remember what they did," said Shirlee Dufort, dean of arts and sciences at Fulton-Montgomery Community College.
Dufort and four other FMCC professors have been applying a teaching method known as "experiential learning" to their coursework.
Fulton-Montgomery Community College radiologic technician students work at a booth they set up in October at the Pyramid Mall in Johnstown for Nathan Littauer Hospital’s annual health fair.
Experiential learning is the process of engaging students in "real life" hands-on experiences.
The FMCC professors use external and internal experiential learning throughout the year.
Dufort said she learned about experiential and service learning at a State University of New York meeting in Albany, where she was told it's important to make students learn by being an active member of the community or campus.
Dufort teaches an evening public-speaking class at the Riverfront Center in Amsterdam and thought it would be a good idea to have the students work with senior citizens at the River Ridge Living Center. She had the students interview seniors at the center and then put together a speech on the assigned person's life.
"An interesting type of diversity that students don't always experience is the diversity of age," Dufort said. "It was astonishing for me to see how open and intimate the interviews turned out to be."
Dufort said the exercise gave students experience in interviewing strangers and allowed the students to compose heartfelt stories.
"The ladies that were involved felt important and they felt validated," said Nancy Murphy, activities coordinator at River Ridge. "They felt it was nice to be remembered and valued."
Graphic arts professor Joseph Marcuccio said he uses experiential learning methods to benefit his students during the year. He offers students an off-campus internship through NTI Global and has students design tickets and fliers for events put on by campus clubs.
NTI Global offers a variety of options for FMCC students to provide them with a hands-on learning experience in business.
NTI Global, based in Amsterdam, is a diverse manufacturing company serving more than nine world markets.
The interns were responsible for providing design support for marketing materials and sections of the 120-page DogSport Magazine.
Marcuccio said he also had students work with Grandoe Gloves in graphic design to give the students experience with an actual client.
He said last week his students now are working on poster and ticket designs for the upcoming Blizzard Ball, which will be held on campus later this month.
"The point to this work is it allows my students to work with the actual client that wants the work done and interact with them as if it were a real customer in the job scenario," Marcuccio said.
Cynthia Close, assistant professor and director of radiologic technology, uses experiential and service learning regularly in her classes.
"We take something we are going to learn in a radiology course and design a service learning project that is a hefty chunk of the students' grade," Close said. "I am a big supporter of service learning, but at the beginning, students don't normally like the projects because it is time consuming. However, by the end of the project, the students always show progress and in-depth reflection about the actual population they will eventually be serving."
She said her students were recently assigned a project involving the topic of living with diabetes. The students worked with Kathie Rohrs, educator for Nathan Littauer Hospital's American Diabetes Association Recognition Program, on two projects.
The first was to develop a presentation and speak to Rohrs' diabetes support group at the hospital. The other was to put together a booth for Nathan Littauer Hospital's annual health fair at the Pyramid Mall in Johnstown on Oct. 26. At the health fair, the students spoke to the public about diabetes and how it looked on an X-ray.
"They did an amazing job," said Rohrs. "It was probably one of the best presentations I have ever seen, and the group really enjoyed the information that was provided."
Close said her classes over the years have examined a variety of medical topics, including diabetes, breast cancer, autism and Alzheimer's disease, and tied them to the radiologic technology program.
Sally James, an assistant professor of business technology applications, teaches a course in the spring called Business Systems Practicum, in which students are in charge of a model business office on campus.
The students complete actual work projects for area non-profit agencies and FMCC departments. The students have worked with agencies such as Catholic Charities, Boys & Girls Club and the Fulton County Regional Chamber of Commerce & Industry by creating brochures and fliers and entering data into spreadsheets, James said.
"It works out really nice for the students because sometimes they will get letters of recommendation from the people they work with at the end," James said. "The biggest benefit of learning like this is the networking opportunities. Students will actually volunteer to do things outside the realm of their grade because they become so involved with the clients."
FMCC President Dustin Swanger praised the experiential-learning approach.
"I think any time we can incorporate what students learn in the classroom in the real-world setting helps them understand how the career they are working toward really works," Swanger said. "It is in our strategic plan to continue to look for more of these opportunities in the classes we provide here at the college."