The roots of experiential learning at Williams run much deeper than many people realize. The Lyceum of Natural History, a student created and maintained society begun in 1835, focused on fieldwork study of natural science, sponsoring small and large scale natural science expeditions, publishing a catalogue of collected specimens and laying the foundations for a science library. Participating students were brought “into contact with nature under new aspects, giving them a taste of real work” in the belief that “every department of education becomes more valuable when put into practice.” (For more information, see Chapter Two of A History of Science at Williams.)
Many date the origins of major experiential education programming at Williams with Professor Robert Gaudino’s pioneering Williams-in-India program of 1969-70. The year-long program of study included on-campus preparatory courses in the fall and winter study before participants spent spring semester pursuing independent projects in cities and villages in India, living in dormitories and homes. Professor Gaudino guided students through their academic and field work, challenging them to confront uncomfortable differences and learn from them. Gaudino scholar, Professor Magnus Bernhardson, carries on the Gaudino legacy with the support of the Gaudino Fund and its trustees. For more information, visit The Gaudino Fund.
The longstanding Williams-Mystic Maritime Studies Program began as a Winter Study Course taught by Ben Labaree in 1971. Moved to Mystic, CT in 1977, the semester-long program is intensive, experiential, and interdisciplinary, featuring humanities, social- science and natural science course work. Students live and study together at the Mystic Seaport campus as well as far from it: on Nantucket Island, in the Caribbean, on the west coast in California, Oregon and Washington, and at sea on a sailing vessel. Williams-Mystic serves as an in-house model for Williams faculty in developing experiential curricula.
Finally, some Williams faculty have been engaging their students in “real world” learning within regularly offered individual courses. Professor Laurie Heatherington’s 25+ year-old Clinical and Community Psychology course (PSYC 352) is a good example of one of these, enabling students to apply their knowledge of academic psychology to field settings through field work placements in local social-service and mental-health agencies. See Existing Courses or the Registrar’s website for a list of current Williams courses involving experiential education.