From SRQ Magazine, January 12, 2019
Throughout the month of January, New College of Florida students are developing a mobile health literacy app for the Florida Literacy Coalition, assisting the Asolo Repertory Theatre with its spring productions of The Cake and Sweeney Todd, student-teaching at St. Stephen’s School in Bradenton, and monitoring the effects of red tide on mammals in Sarasota Bay.
New College requires students complete three Independent Study Projects in order to graduate, and most students spend several weeks each January working on them. Working under the guidance of our professors, the students pursue myriad research projects, develop artistic and theatrical productions and participate in professional internships at schools, libraries, research labs, community organizations and public policy institutes. While some students travel abroad or out of state for independent study projects, the majority remain here in the Sarasota-Bradenton area.
The hundreds of independent study projects and field-based internships in which students are currently involved teach them about the unique challenges and opportunities that define our home city and surrounding area. As importantly, our students get to contribute in meaningful ways to Sarasota and Manatee counties by partnering with established organizations with deep ties to this region.
Whether they’re interning at the Multicultural Health Institute in Sarasota, volunteering at the Lemur Conservation Foundation in Myakka City, or conducting environmental research at Triangle Ranch in Manatee County, the students gain valuable hands-on experience that complements their classroom learning and contributes to the well-being of our local community. But independent work does much more than this—it powerfully improves learning in its own right. The experience of framing (and reframing) a problem, managing information and time, judging what is knowable and changeable provides critical cognitive tools that students will use through their lives.
Almost paradoxically, exploring different areas of interest to the student sets that student up for future career opportunities. Young people are instinctively curious and independent work prepares them to act constructively on that curiosity. These young people will eventually become the educators, scientists, lawyers, artists, journalists and community leaders that contribute to our state’s economy and our region’s well being. Every employer wants them.
When you see a New College student out in the community, you might just want to encourage them—especially if they’re working on their latest independent student project.
Donal O’Shea is president of New College of Florida.