Students develop knowledge and skills outside traditional academic settings, including Thailand and the Amazon rainforest.

By Nikki M. Murry

When it comes to giving students real-world experiences outside of the classroom to help them get ahead, Alvernia is at the head of the class.

The university’s experiential learning offerings — through which students develop knowledge, skills and values outside traditional academic settings — include internships, field experiences, co-ops, clinical assignments, research projects, community service and study/service abroad programs.

Alvernia’s continued growth as a comprehensive regional university and the partnerships that come with the growth have provided new experiences that help produce workplace-ready graduates. This is especially important at a time when employers are expecting hires to be up to speed on day one.

While many of these experiences take place in Eastern Pennsylvania, others are taking place as far as the Amazon rainforest, where Alexander Kabrich ‘24, a long-bow enthusiast and self-proclaimed tactile learner, had the opportunity last summer to get hands-on with his studies.

During the summer of 2023, Kabrich and Alvernia Assistant Professor of Biology Jamie Becker, Ph.D., partnered with the Amazon Center for Environmental Education and Research Foundation and the Delaware Teachers Institute at the University of Delaware to pilot methods for capturing and sequencing environmental DNA, or eDNA — DNA that doesn’t come from a living organism — in the Sucasari region of the Peruvian Amazon.

Alexander Kabrich Amazon Experiential Learning

Photo: Alexander Kabrich with vials of environmental DNA during his experiential learning trip to the Sucasari region of the Peruvian Amazon.

“Faculty at Alvernia are very excited to team up with students to help accomplish their scholarship goals,” said Becker. “We couldn’t be happier getting to interact with students and help facilitate those opportunities. Watching students blossom … is an incredibly rewarding experience as a professor.”

Kabrich and Becker took samples from soil and water, looking at traces from organisms that had fed, swum or relieved themselves at those locations.

“We can use essentially a fingerprint, if you will, that they left behind through the sequencing of that DNA coming to the Peruvian,” Becker said. “What we’re planning on doing is using this environmental DNA to tell where certain animals have been.”

Kabrich also was among five students on a two-week excursion examining biodiversity and tropical ecology in Costa Rica during the summer of 2023. Being in the right place at the right time led him to that discovery. At a Farm Service Day, Kabrich overheard a professor talking to another student in his major about the opportunity to travel to Peru. That student passed on the experience, but Kabrich was eager to pack his bags.

“This is helping me attain my goals because I’m getting experience in the field that I want to work in, which is fieldwork, way before I actually even get a job,” Kabrich remarked while chronicling the excursion. “So I know what to expect when I get into that profession or field or wherever I would be going.”

Once vice president of the Outdoor Adventure Klub, Kabrich is also involved with EcoHouse, an experimental learning hub for students who are actively engaged in the Holleran Center for Community and Global Engagement’s Bog Turtle Creek Farm project. When it comes to his environmental science curriculum, Alexander enjoys the flexibility of the coursework as it allows him to study a wide array of topics.

“I kind of liken myself to being a jack of all trades, master of none,” he asserts. “I like studying the [many] different pathways of biology.”

To future Alvernia students, he recommends getting as involved as possible, and early.

“You never know where or when an amazing opportunity will appear,” he said.



Experiential learning in action

Trading lab

Photo: Professor of Business Scott Ballantyne, Ph.D, led a team of students in the Bloomberg Global Trading Challenge.

AU Business Students Compete in Global Trading Challenge

In October and November 2023, undergraduate students enrolled in the Financial Decision-Making course led by Professor of Business Scott Ballantyne, Ph.D., competed in the Bloomberg Global Trading Challenge, an international business competition with over 10,000 students competing. Using virtual currency, teams from around the world competed to see which group could generate the highest profit and loss return. Alvernia’s groups had strong placements, with one team placing in the top 5%, another in the top 20%, and a third in the top 25%.

The Bloomberg Terminal, available for students to use in business labs at the John R. Post Center at Reading CollegeTowne and Pottsville CollegeTowne, provides real-time and historical data, market-moving news and analytics. Alvernia offers training and certification from Bloomberg Market Concepts, a library of e-learning courses that provides an introduction to the financial markets.

Cultural Immersion Through Sport

In the fall, communication major and O'Pake Institute for Economic Development and Entrepreneurship Fellow Dane Sabarese was selected for a prestigious opportunity to explore Thailand’s expansive sports culture. On Thanksgiving Day in 2023, Sabarese left to participate in Living Sport’s international sports business program, experiencing cultural immersion and professional development in the sports industry.

He interned with the Oceanman World Finals, an international open-water swimming competition for elite and amateur swimmers. Sabarese went to work every day via the tuk-tuk, Thailand’s No. 1 form of transportation. In addition to capturing and editing content with his team, he visited iconic sports venues, including the Rajamangala National Stadium, home of Thailand’s national soccer team, and Lumpinee Boxing Stadium, a historic venue for Thailand’s traditional Muay Thai martial arts sport.

Assignment for Advocacy

Over the summer of 2023, a cohort of Doctor of Physical Therapy faculty and staff visited Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., to advocate for legislation surrounding the profession.

The group participated in listening sessions with the American Physical Therapy Association House of Delegates learning about various bills passed by the organization. Two Alvernia professors — Doctor of Physical Therapy Director of Clinical Education, Pamela Unger, PT, DPT, CWS; and Claire McCann, PT, DPT — are in the House of Delegates. The group also discussed various bills with local senators and U.S. Congress and Senate representatives, educating them on their work with the pro bono clinics that serve the Reading and Berks County communities. Out-of-state students even had the opportunity to spend the day with delegates from their home state and visit their respective senators and representatives in Utah, New York, New Jersey, Vermont, Delaware and Washington state.

Up Next: Alvernia Apprenticeship to Degree Program

Reinforcing its commitments to molding students through experiences beyond the classroom and boosting local businesses and partners, Alvernia’s upcoming Apprenticeship to Degree Program will allow students to earn, learn and intern, forging careers while contributing to the development of the local workforce. Through paid externships and internships, students embark on a journey of professional growth and development.

The initiative, which launches in the summer of 2024, will allow employers to introduce students to their organizational culture, potentially leading to long-term hires. Students will gain valuable employment opportunities and enjoy the benefits of on-campus housing, earn credits toward graduation and learn about the diverse career options throughout the region. The program will encourage students to engage with the same organization/employer for multiple years, enhancing exposure, understanding and appreciation for the employer’s industry.