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Engaged learners, great leaders

CMU students take classroom lessons into the community to support others

Contact: Ari Harris

At Central Michigan University, a lot of education happens outside the classroom. And that's intentional.

Cherie Strachan, assistant dean of the College of Humanities and Social and Behavioral Sciences, said classroom knowledge is only the first step in a great education. Applying that knowledge in a way that helps others in the community is what engaged learning is all about.

“It’s in our DNA. Every student, in every academic program, has the chance to participate in hands-on learning, research and service learning.” — Cherie Strachan, CHSBS assistant dean

At the college's annual induction and pinning ceremony this month in the Powers Hall Ballroom, Strachan introduced two seniors who exemplify that strategy.

Lexie's story

Lexie White, a senior majoring in public history with a minor in museum studies, had always liked history but wasn't sure what to do with her interest until she met Caity Burnell, a member of the faculty in the museum studies program and museum educator at CMU's Museum of Cultural and Natural History.

"I love working with kids of all ages. I came to CMU planning to teach, but I saw that working in the museum I could combine both interests," she said. 

"I was able to get hands-on right away. I was doing things in the museum that I was learning about in class at the same time," White said. She helped clean, store, curate, and pack loan items in the museum’s collection for use in area schools. She also developed educational experiences for children, organized and led tours, and created games and activities that met Michigan educational standards.


Lexie White, left, pictured with Caity Burnell, developed a game for children based on the Michigan fur trade.

When the museum received support to provide free busing to the museum for local schools from CMU alum John Harkins through his personal giving and a grant from the John R. and Constance M. Harkins Community Fund, White saw an immediate need for more volunteer help.

"She created a manual for volunteers to learn about the museum and our services, wrote an FAQ guide, developed a background check process, hosted information sessions, and then took charge of recruiting, training and managing the volunteers," Burnell said.

"Not only did she ensure we had sufficient volunteer help, she created a new way for her peers to get hands-on experience in the museum."

Her take-charge attitude and experience leading others made her an ideal fit for a position at the Holland Museum in Holland, Michigan, where she has been hired as volunteer and tour coordinator.

"They were so impressed that I already had two years' worth of experience doing exactly the kinds of work they needed," White said. She begins her new career just two weeks after graduation.

Mia's story

For senior Mia Segura, an exercise science major minoring in military science, engaged learning meant taking full advantage of opportunities to build skills for a career as a physical therapist for the U.S. Army.

Segura was born in Germany and grew up on a military post in Vicenza, Italy. She saw young men and women enlisting to serve their country and knew she wanted to grow up to serve them in return. 

After receiving national scholarships to cover tuition costs, Segura chose Central Michigan University because she knew she'd get more one-on-one mentorship and opportunities she might not get elsewhere. In addition to her studies, Segura participates in Army Reserve Officers Training Corps activities several times a week.

In the summer between her sophomore and junior year, Segura spent three weeks at airborne school at Fort Benning learning to parachute from military aircraft such as the C130 plane. Following her junior year, she spent a month at an advance camp in Fort Knox being evaluated on land navigation, leadership and tactical skills and ranked within the top 10 of her platoon.

"It's been very demanding physically and mentally. To balance all of the requirements of my major and minor with all of the responsibilities of ROTC, I have to really be mindful of my time and scheduling everything out," she said.


Mia Segura gets help applying face camouflage during a field exercise at Fort Knox.

When Segura went to Camp Mackall in North Carolina to observe the Special Forces Training Unit, hers was the first group of cadets to include women. She was able to shadow a variety of officers to observe their leadership styles. She also had the chance to complete two jumps from Blackhawk helicopters.

"Every year, I've been given opportunities to grow as a leader in this program and to take on increasing levels of responsibility. I've had so many mentors, because everyone was willing to make time to help me."

Segura's outstanding performance helped to earn her commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army at her former home at the army post in Italy.

The rule, not the exception

Although White's and Segura's stories are unique, their experiences with engaged learning opportunities are not.

"It's what we do every day in our classes. It's in our DNA. Every student, in every academic program, has the chance to participate in hands-on learning, research and service learning," Strachan said. It's a path she hopes more students will choose.

Strachan said the political and civic obligations for scholars to use their education and skills to help others are rooted in U.S. history.

"The rationale for the first land-grant universities was that society needed leaders who could think critically about values, politics and social issues," Strachan said.

"That remains true today. We still have the responsibility to build students into thoughtful, civic-minded people who can play a part in improving the world around us."

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