New Experiential Learning Center helps Tandon students successfully chart a course for their future

The new office acts as a one-stop shop for students exploring the many hands-on opportunities and programs offered at the school.

Students gathered around a desk with sticky notes.

Students arriving in Brooklyn have a wealth of opportunities at their fingertips. With so many classes, programs, degrees and departments, it can sometimes feel overwhelming to navigate those opportunities. Moreover, every student enters Tandon with different interests, and there is no one right educational experience that works for every student’s individual needs and goals.

That’s where the new Experiential Learning Center (ELC) comes in. The ELC acts as a “one stop shop” for students exploring the myriad hands-on resources and opportunities to help shape their unique journey through school, from extracurricular activities to multi-year projects to landing their dream job after graduation.

The ELC can help students explore multidisciplinary project-based courses, leadership opportunities through student organizations, entrepreneurial based courses, service learning, specific study abroad experiences, large scale student events and conferences, internships and co-ops, research and teaching opportunities, and more they might have missed otherwise. With so many possibilities, the ELC is aimed at eliminating the confusion some students might feel and helping them build a unique journey through their years at Tandon.

The ELC is led by Victoria Bill, Managing Director of the MakerSpace Lab, and Cindy Lewis, Senior Director of Undergraduate Enrollment Management. Together, the co-directors developed the Center  over the last year, taking inspiration from other schools with similar ideas and shaping it to fit the unique needs of Tandon students.

Lewis and Bill are bringing their own unique perspectives to those needs. Lewis is responsible for leading the development, implementation and assessment of recruitment plans designed to attract and enroll undergraduate engineering students, so she is intimately familiar with the kind of offering prospective students need and are expecting. Bill’s role in the MakerSpace puts her in close contact with students who are designing and implementing ideas from across disciplines and programs. She is also a faculty member in the Vertically Integrated Projects program, which fosters teamwork and collaboration among many different types of students towards a shared engineering achievement.

A large focus of the ELC is to help students develop their own individual pathway through their education, and especially to give students a sense of ownership over their academic journey. It’s also an opportunity to build a more inclusive school. Often, students with more privileged backgrounds can afford to explore all the opportunities the school offers, and that other students might not even know about.

“Because the ELC can be this ‘one-stop shop’ for all students, we can help introduce more students to the programming and support networks they need to excel,” says Lewis. “It helps us remove the exclusivity surrounding some parts of the school, and bring in students who might otherwise miss some of their possible pathways through school.”

Another focus is realigning the skills — both technical and personal — that students must acquire to succeed in the engineering world. The launch of the ELC coincides with a rethinking of the basic engineering curriculum that all incoming students are required to take. These new courses prioritize skills like teamwork, critical thinking, interdisciplinary learning and groundbreaking design. The offerings of the ELC reflects these key facets of Tandon’s engineering curriculum, a curriculum that has been reformed by faculty and the Dean’s office over the last five years to better reflect the needs of engineers in training.

"The Experiential Learning Center presents another great resource for our students, whose unconventional approaches to engineering and technology will be strengthened with a focus on flexibility, teamwork and interdisciplinary learning,” said Dean Jelena Kovačević. “Every student's individual journey at Tandon and beyond can benefit from drawing on the guidance and opportunities available through the Center."

One major focus of the ELC is preparing students for a competitive workforce. According to Lewis, students coming out of high school are already tuned in to how their education will translate into a great career. “When we go to college fairs, prospective students have two top questions: how close are you to Washington Square Park, and how easy is it to get internships as a student?” says Lewis. “Even as high schoolers, students are eager to start mapping out their future, and the ELC can help them plan their academic journey to help make that a reality.”

To do so, the ELC is embedding career development in programming for first- and second-year students, rather than waiting until students begin looking for internships or jobs. That gives Tandon students a heads up when it comes time to enter the workforce, and build the kinds of skills in which a 21st century employee must excel.

But NYU Tandon is not just another school where students spend a few years qualifying for a job. Students here have a distinctive perspective thanks to its location in the heart of Brooklyn.

“Our students come from unique backgrounds, including from the city itself,” says Bill. “And compared to some engineering schools that are located across the US outside of major cities, our students have an innate understanding of urban needs. Through the programs and opportunities represented by the ELC, they're developing the skills necessary to tackle these specific problems.”

For students, the ELC is an opportunity to explore what being an unconventional engineer means, from the classroom, to the MakerSpace, and beyond the school itself.