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Two researchers wearing white lab coats, blue rubber gloves and safety goggles handle test tubes in a lab.

Illinois Tech’s new experiential learning initiative makes it easier for students to participate in hands-on learning.

Illinois Tech

A June ECMC Group survey found that 79 percent of high school students say it is important to have on-the-job learning experiences during their postsecondary education, such as through internships or apprenticeships, and 65 percent believe their ideal college education would involve learning skills on the job.

A summer 2022 Student Voice survey from Inside Higher Ed and College Pulse found the majority of college students had at least one internship or experiential learning, but about four in 10 had neither. Three in four say they never had the opportunity to do experiential learning through a course.

To make hands-on learning more accessible and unified across the institution, Illinois Tech created Elevate, which provides one central location for all experiential learning offered at the university and for support resources to students. Elevate makes it easier for students to be aware of available opportunities and for Illinois Tech to track outcomes, with a majority of students landing a job within six months of graduation.

The inspiration: Illinois Tech has always been focused on experiential learning as part of its mission, launching the Interprofessional Projects (IPRO) program over 20 years ago, which makes project learning a requirement for graduation. Through IPRO, students across majors partner to solve problems for employee project sponsors. Each student completes two IPRO experiences, earning six credits, prior to graduation.

Launched last year, Elevate is an evolution of IPRO, tailored for students’ academic and career development that supports resume building throughout college to make sure students are prepared to succeed in the job market.

How it works: Undergraduate and graduate students are eligible to participate in Elevate experiences, but new first-year students can participate in Elevate Promise, which offers guided planning from Illinois Tech staff on how to optimize out-of-classroom experiences and job readiness.

All seven Illinois Tech colleges and academic programs are involved in the Elevate program, as well as their career services and other departments.  

A student works on a computer numerical control machine in a shop.

Students at Illinois Tech can work in many different labs and shop spaces on campus.

Illinois Tech

The student lifecycle through the Elevate program varies by individual interests with career readiness embedded throughout. To get started, students partner with peer mentors, called associate academic coaches, to explore available Elevate activities and connect on-campus activities to future career goals. Mentors are also responsible for connecting students with advisers and career coaches to create a success team.  

All Elevate experiences are consolidated in the Elevate Portal, which shows internships and research job positions as well as campus communities students can join and upcoming events. The Elevate Portal also allows students to contact their support team directly, as well.  

Students can begin participating in Elevate prior to enrollment through a pre-college program or virtual internship. Illinois Tech also offers scholarship dollars to high school students who complete hands-on-learning experiences prior to enrollment. 

Experiences are designed to build on one another, starting with an Elevate experience in the first-year, an internship after the second year, leadership or mentorship and internship in the third year and a final Elevate experience in the fourth year before starting the job search.  

Students who participate in Elevate experiences gain technical and human skills, including teamwork, design thinking, innovation and entrepreneurship, creativity, leadership and problem-solving abilities.  

The impact: Leaders at Illinois Tech will collect student outcome data from graduating seniors to track outcomes. Illinois Tech has a high job placement rate, with 85 percent of 2022 alumni employed full-time within six months of graduation and an additional 4.7 percent continuing their education, according to first-destination survey data.  

Two students line up a gear under a microscope.

Illinois Tech offers a variety of experiential learning programs, all united under the Elevate program.

Illinois Tech

Campus leaders are confident that students who fulfill the milestones of the Elevate program will receive a job offer within six months. If not, staff will help them gain additional skills or education, including master’s courses or upskilling programs, at the university free of charge.  

Looking ahead: Illinois Tech leaders are looking to improve and scale the program. Soon, students will have to complete a learning module prior to starting an experiential learning activity to show competencies in areas such as collaboration, communication and problem-solving.  

In January 2024, the university will begin a partnership with Virtual Internships to expand access to job experiences for students and this next summer, will offer Podium Education to students as well. Next fall, Illinois Tech will start offering cooperative experiential learning and global cooperative experiential learning on a semesterly basis.  

Leadership hopes to remove barriers to entry for students as well, by making Elevate Promise messaging clearer and more effective. Program officials hope Elevate scales in size but also in its capacity to shape future leaders.  

If your student success program has a unique feature or twist, we’d like to know about it. Click here to submit. 

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