Office of Applied Learning Experiences (ALEX)

An integral component of the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo’s strategic plan, Applied Learning Experiences (ALEX's) engage students in real world situations requiring them to put into action the knowledge and skills they are developing through academic coursework. These experiences help students connect academic learning to the real world, enabling them to obtain and enhance the knowledge and skills required for employment, further education, and active participation in the local community. These can take on a variety of forms, including community based projects, service learning, research, internships, practica, creative activities, and capstone projects.

It is the mission of the Office of Applied Learning Experiences (ALEX) to maximize the breadth and depth of applied learning opportunities for students at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo through numerous activities, which include, but are not restricted to:

  • ALEXOnline: Launched in January, 2014, ALEXOnline is a web-based magazine that reports daily on real world learning experiences being offered to students at UH Hilo.
  • Internship Fairs - Held each Fall and Spring semester. Read more about the Fall ALEX Internship Fair.
  • Student Professional Events - To prepare students for internship fairs and the interviewing process. This includes resume writing and interviewing/career fair skills workshops.
  • ALEX Faculty Workshops and Teaching Awards - To provide faculty with the knowledge and skills necessary to be more effective applied learning instructors and to acknowledge and reward their efforts.
  • Student Research Conferences - Held each Fall and Spring semester, the ALEX Student Research Conference is UH Hilo's only multi-disciplinary research conference. It provides them with a forum to present research completed in classes and through independent directed study in front of their classmates, faculty, and judges, who provide them with invaluable feedback.
  • Student Travel Grants - Students often have the opportunity to present their research at academic conferences in Oahu and on the mainland, but no funds for conference reservation or travel expenses. The travel grants we provide help to provide students with the funds necessary to participate in these conferences.
  • Faculty Course Releases - For the development of applied learning experiences in existing or prospective courses.
  • ALEX Applied Learning Summit - Held each April, the summit highlights best practices in all forms of applied learning, including keynote presenters who are experts in their field and UH Hilo ALEX Teaching Award winners.
  • ALEX Fellows - The ALEX Fellows are a group of practicing applied learning instructors who serve as mentors for aspiring faculty and share their experiences at the ALEX Applied Learning Summit, and in workshops.

Many of ALEX's office operations and activities wouldn't be possible without the support of a Title III Alaska Native-Native Hawaiian (ANNH) Serving Institutions grant.

The ALEX Team

The Office of Applied Learning Experiences (ALEX) operates solely on internship power, proving that interns can be skilled and productive resources for organizations, while helping students to build new skill sets and confidence in their abilities.

ALEX Interns
ALEX interns, old and new, meet each semester for a retreat to discuss the mission of the organization and how to deliver on it as well as create important social bonds.

Applied Learning Experiences Excellence in Teaching Awards

The Office of Applied Learning Experiences(ALEX) is proud to introduce the 2012 - 2013 Applied Learning Experiences Excellence in Teaching Award winners. Chosen through a competitive process from a group of nominations by colleagues and administrators, these five individuals stood out from the rest in how they develop and deliver applied learning experiences for their students. Each award winner will attend an all expenses paid trip to an applied learning conference in March and serve as an ALEX Fellow, helping to mentor their colleagues and sharing their experiences at the ALEX Summit, to be held this coming April. The conference travel is is funded by a U.S. Department of Education, Title III Alaska Native-Native Hawaiian Serving Institutions Grant.

ALEX Applied Learning Experiences Faculty Award Winners
Pictured above: from left to right, Norman Arancon, Celia Bardwell-Jones, Michael Marshall, Harald Barkhoff, and Dawna Coutant

Norman Arancon, Assistant Professor - College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resource Management

(Research, Community Based Project, Service Learning)

Students in Dr. Arancon’s Hydroponics (HORT 263, Plant Physiology (PPHYS 310), Vegetable Crop Production (HORT 351), and Weed Science (HORT 481) courses have the opportunity to apply knowledge and skills learned in class by conducting a well-planned research activity. These research activities are designed to give students a chance to independently explore or illustrate various theories in applied plant science. First, there is a conceptualization and planning session where students select an appropriate research topic. Next, a detailed research plan is drafted after consultation with Dr. Arancon to make sure that the timelines are feasible and materials are available. Although these exercises usually require more time for individual consultation and supervision than traditional course activities they allow the students to develop critical thinking by evaluating the validity of data obtained in a given set of treatments and replications that are laid out in properly randomized experimental design. These activities enhance information literacy of the students because they are required to survey available literature and other relevant information to validate and compare their own results. More importantly, all of these exercises are designed to advance their scientific and quantitative reasoning through use of systematic and empirical approaches to address a research question. These reports are not the only means by which their overall knowledge in the course is assessed. A graded oral presentation of the results is also required. Some of the studies conducted by students formed the basis for larger and more detailed experiments that were eventually published in international peer-reviewed journals.

Students in the Sustainable Agriculture (AG 230) course perform organized service activities that meet identified community needs and make use of the knowledge and skills learned in the class. Concurrently the students further their understanding of the course content and enhance their sense of personal value and civic responsibility. The core of this class is to understand and practice the principles of sustainable agriculture by performing activities that meet the following sustainability criteria: ecologically sound, economically feasible, socially acceptable, culturally sensitive, technologically appropriate, based on holistic science, and one that promotes total human development. To demonstrate these principles students are grouped accordingly to perform organized service activities at two community sites: 1) University community and 2) Haile Neighborhood community.

The groups that were assigned in the University community recognized the need for an edible garden around the campus. The movement started with the 2009 class where groups of AG 230 students created a project that dramatically changed the campus landscape by incorporating vegetables, improving the landscape design, incorporating more fruit trees and improving the overall growth of the currently growing plants by amending the soils with compost. Another group initiated composting and vermicomposting on the campus. They recycled organic matter wastes from the CAB and BO buildings, the dorms and the cafeteria and converted them into composts or feedstocks for earthworms in vermicomposting. The group also disseminated the technology by distributing portable vermicompost bins in the dorms. Food wastes and cardboard boxes from the cafeteria were collected on a weekly basis. These service projects were performed in collaboration with other student organizations such as UHHSA’s sustainability committee and Ag Club. Produce from the gardens was harvested and given to students in the dorms and others were sold in a student-organized farmer’s market held on the campus twice a month. Other groups chose to set up experimental plots at the UHH Farm to demonstrate sustainable cropping systems such as intercropping, companion cropping, organic farming and alternative pest management.

In the Haile neighborhood community, another group of students serviced the community garden run by the Boys and Girls Club of Hilo. Students set up their own demonstration projects on proper ways of composting, intercropping, cover cropping and organic gardening. All the produce was donated to the surrounding community and garden volunteers.

Celia Bardwell-Jones, Assistant Professor - Philosophy

(Community Based Project, Service Learning)

In her Introduction to Philosophy class, Dr. Bardwell-Jones has partnered with the second grade teacher, Mrs. Haunga, at the Waiakea Elementary School. The purpose of this partnership is to invigorate the skills of critical thinking at an early age in Elementary education. Mrs. Haunga has expressed the need for her students to develop the skills of critical thinking. Dr. Bardwell-Jones has developed a community based project in which her students will read a children's book to Mrs. Haunga's second grade class and develop activities for the students that highlight the skills of the Socratic method. Her students will then both learn the skills of critical thinking in the process of teaching the second graders subject matters in philosophy, ranging from ethics, knowledge, and reality.

Additionally, Dr. Bardwell-Jones has developed a Social Action project in her PHIL 370 - American Philosophy course. Here, she engages her students to write a research paper (7-8 pages) in which they connect their experience to the themes of the course. American philosophy has much to do with linking theory and practice together and so this assignment is meant to engage students to do just that. Each student must participate in a social action project (engaging 2nd graders to critical thinking by reading a children's book, volunteering in a domestic violence shelter, planned parenthood, or other non-profit organization, setting up a table at Hilo's First Friday in which students will present a poster board presentation and engage the communty members about subjects that are important to the Hilo community, volunteer in a Native Hawaiian service event, sponsored by the Malama Kaiaulu Community Service Program, or engage in an experience (such as walking in the woods, walking over lava, or any experience with nature) and reflecting this experience with the course readings. Some of the research questions that students can examine depending on their social action project is "Is Native Hawaiian Philosophy, American Philosophy?" "What does the term "local" mean for Hilo?" "How does Tourism affect the identity of Hilo as a muncipality?" "What is the role of gender in society?"

Michael Marshall, Professor and Chair - Art Department

(Community Based Project, Creative Activities)

Dr. Marshall has organized the visiting artist program to include one credit workshops and/or included a required component in which the students of currently offered art classes work closely with the artists in producing a series of prints in the printmaking lab. He has also initiated a collaboration with a nearby charter school to digitally produce the boxes to house the collaborative print series. Dr. Marshall also applied for and received a grant to develop the Summer Art Institute (begins 2013) in which professional artists will come to Hilo to work with students in their specialized areas. He also spent many hours recruiting students from art classes to work on matting, framing and hanging the international works on paper, and international juried print shows which are hung in Campus Center 301 each semester. Without his efforts to recruit students to help with these hands on projects, their completion would not be possible. These exhibitions are a major contribution to the University Community. In addition, Dr. Marshall has worked with some of the downtown Hilo galleries and exhibition spaces to facilitate the showing of student and alumni work from UH Hilo.

Harald Barkhoff, Associate Professor - Kinesiology and Exercise Sciences

(Community Based Project, Service Learning)

In Dr. Barkhoff's KES 443 Adapted Physical Education class, students develop knowledge of current concepts and trends in adapted physical education and the develop the ability to assess, plan and implement a physical education program designed to meet the unique needs of individuals

The biggest part of this class is the applied learning experience conducted with students with disabilities from Waiakea High School. The structure of the entire course is actually tailored towards this hands-on teaching experience.

KES 443 students are required to attend an entire weekend of classes. On both Saturday and Sunday, Harald teaches the students relevant information and activities to help them understand how to not only appropriately interact with special needs students, but how to modify physical education programs to meet the needs of students with disabilities that they will be dealing with.

Then, during the semester, KES 443 students meet ten times with students with disabilities from Waiakea High School in the UH Hilo gym and/or Student Life Center pool. KES students are asked to prepare, outline and conduct an Individualized Education Program (IEP) with practical implications for the Waiakea High School class groups of three to four students. Each group of students is asked to provide an outline of the IEP which counts for 30% of their grade. The group is then required to implement their IEP with the students with disabilities from Waiakea High School. This counts for 40% of their grade.

In addition to providing UH Hilo students an opportunity to work with students with disabilities, the KES class also provides students with an opportunity to work with Special Olympics activities as well as have opportunities for paid and unpaid internships.

Dawna Coutant, Associate Professor - Psychology

(Community Based Project, Research)

Dr. Coutant developed PSY 460, Psychology of Sustainability. A major component of this course is a group project (45% of final grade). Students are placed into small groups and work with a client on a real world project, for a real “client”, related to sustainable living in Hawaii.

The goal for students is to present a workable solution to a current problem that needs improvement. Students may be able to base their recommendations solely on scholarly literature but usually need to collect data to arrive at/support their recommendations. But either way, their recommendations must be tailored to their client’s target audience and environment and based on evidence rather than just bright ideas.

Reports have assigned deadlines along the way to help insure that all student reports are professionally presented, based on research, and presented or turned in on time. Students present their findings in a paper with detailed recommendations and a power point presentation for the client.

Graded assignments for the project include:

  1. Outline of Plan to Study the Problem
  2. Annotated Bibliography of Literature on Specific Topic
  3. IRB proposal if data is collected
  4. Rough Draft of Final Paper (this is averaged with the Final Draft)
  5. Dress Rehearsal of Presentation (the week before the client presentation) – the class makes suggestions and critiques each group's presentation in an effort to make refinements prior to the client presentation.

Clients receive free “research and consultation”, and in turn are required to show up to class twice during the semester:

  • during the second week of class, during which time they describe the problems they need help with, the obstacles that have made it difficult to resolve the problem, and the constraints with which the clients must work.
  • during the last week of the semester, as our guests, to receive their recommendations in the form of their "consultant group's" presentation of recommendations.

Clients have included the County of Hawaiʻi, Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, and UH Hilo. Projects have included (but are not limited to):

  • “Factors, and Prevention of Illegal Dumping”
  • “How to Lower Electricity Costs”
  • “How to divert electronic waste from the landfill”
  • “How to Implement a ReUsable Water Bottle Initiative”
  • “Best practices for implementing Sustainable Hand-dryers”
  • “How to Promote Youth Engagement at a National Park”,
  • “How to reduce Paper Usage at UH Hilo”

Feedback from clients has been very positive. Clients report that they take the student reports seriously. In several cases the student recommendation have resulted in changes in policies and practices of the client organization.

Contact Information

Tom DeWitt, Ph.D.
Director - Office of Applied Learning Experiences (ALEX)
250 Kanakaole Hall
University of Hawai’i at Hilo
Phone: 808.987.6551

More Information