A Future-Focused Education: Experiential Learning Puts Cumberland Students Ahead of the Curve

culogo shield 202The face of employment is changing, and so too is Cumberland University. To succeed in tomorrow’s market—and in life—students need both the critical thinking skills of a liberal arts education and the direct career knowledge that comes from experiential learning. To help students meet that challenge, Cumberland is combining unique hands-on learning experiences with cutting-edge academic programs to prepare its students to achieve and thrive in the workplace.

As Dr. Joshua Hayden, Cumberland’s Executive Director of General Education, explained, a CU education begins preparing students for their future from their very first semesters on campus.

“We start with career preparation in the freshman year,” said Hayden. “Students will have the opportunity for exploration through their Foundations of Scholarship and Learning course and participate in job shadowing in the spring semester of their first year.”

Cumberland is setting itself apart from other universities in its efforts to prepare students for the workplace through its singular, personalized commitment to student success.

“Cumberland’s approach is about providing the tools and experiences that prepare students for their future,” said Hayden. “Many schools can provide these. What we offer is the tools and experience plus the relationships, feedback, and encouragement for these things to last a life-time. Our faculty believes in and walks with our students through the experiences and tools, and that makes them that much more powerful.”

Throughout their four years at Cumberland, students build a foundation on which to engage with their chosen fields, preparing for their careers both in and out of the classroom.


Learning to Command a Classroom

Education students experience their future professions firsthand in Cumberland’s School of Humanities, Education, and the Arts. Cumberland’s teacher education programs are defined by their student-centric, career-ready approach, according to Dr. Eric Cummings, Dean of the School of Humanities, Education, and the Arts.

“We’re practitioner-focused and oriented towards having our graduates not just ready for the field, but ready to lead in the field,” said Cummings.

To that end, Cumberland Education students participate in over 100 hours of observation and activity in diverse school environments. Students cap off their experience with student teaching placements, gaining crucial knowledge of concepts such as classroom management and assessment.

Those learning experiences are bolstered by a responsive curriculum taught by faculty members dedicated to helping students stay on top of new and emerging trends in the classroom.

“We’re practitioner-focused and oriented towards having our graduates not just ready for the field, but ready to lead in the field.”

“Between faculty professional development and good relations with our local schools, we know what trends are coming, and we’re adapting our coursework to that constantly,” said Cummings.

When Cumberland Education students enter the classroom, they do so with distinction. According to a 2012 Tennessee Higher Education Commission report, Cumberland has the best job placement and four-year retention rate of any Tennessean teacher preparation program with more than 100 graduates a year.

“Our students tend to be placed quickly and stay longer than their peers from other institutions because they’ve been so well-prepared that they know exactly what they’re getting into,” noted Cummings.

You can find those graduates everywhere. According to Cummings, Cumberland’s Education graduates serve in schools in areas ranging from Ohio and Mississippi to North Carolina and Arkansas, in addition to Middle Tennessee.


Preparing for Their Future Practice

Students also gain unique hands-on experience and career preparation in the Rudy School of Nursing and Health Professions. Through programs on-campus and online, the Rudy School enables aspiring and working nurses to earn their Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

“Cumberland is committed to providing quality nurses and introducing them into the nursing profession,” explained Dr. Rachel Carlton, an assistant professor and director of Cumberland’s Online RN-BSN program. “Our philosophy concentrates on a student-centric program and curriculum in which students are provided with constant support on how to function and become successful in their field.”

Cumberland provides its students with the opportunity to engage with their field directly through a host of clinical experiences in diverse health facilities within a 100-mile radius of Cumberland, from Lebanon to Cookeville.

“We try not to put our students in the same clinical site twice if we can avoid it,” noted Carlton. “When our students graduate, they have a very well-rounded view of nursing and its environs.”

Students gain that knowledge not only through clinical experiences, but also through a curriculum specifically designed to respond to the future of nursing. Students learn traditional nursing skills such as patient management, but they also prepare to engage with emerging trends in healthcare, from community health to multicultural nursing.

“Our curriculum prepares students for emerging trends throughout the nursing profession,” said Carlton, a Cumberland alumna. “And I can say that not only as a faculty member, but as a former student.”

Cumberland nurses are highly sought after in the medical community. In Middle Tennessee alone, where 84 percent of graduates serve, Cumberland nurses practice in 22 hospitals and eight other health facilities.

“We have a very high rate of placement,” said Carlton. “Despite the market tightening, our nurses are still doing very well.”


Providing a Bridge to a Career

For students in all majors, however, the Office of Career Services and Internships offers a vital pathway to career exploration and workplace experience.

“The Office of Career Services and Internships is dedicated to assisting students and alumni to discover their professional goals and develop life-long career management skills,” explained Ronie McPeak, who directs the office.

From self-assessments to mock interviews, the office provides services designed to help students discover their interests and realize them through career planning, internships, and job opportunities.

Though many other universities offer career assistance, Cumberland is able to provide personalized, one-on-one preparation to its students throughout their four-year education.

“Cumberland University is unique in that it is a small university, and providing one-on-one assistance with students is easier than at larger schools,” said McPeak. “The smaller student base allows me to better focus on individual student needs and wants, while maintaining excellent job and internship possibilities to the entire student body.”

Cumberland’s Internship Program provides students with experiences and networking opportunities that can translate into a great career after graduation, according to McPeak.

“Internships are more than just college credit for students; internships provide students with an open door to new possibilities,” said McPeak. Phoenix businesses “There have been many instances where an internship or part-time position [from our placements] has led to full time employment.”

In 2012-2013 alone, Cumberland’s growing Internship Program placed students in more than 50 internships. Since its inception, the program has placed students with such organizations as the Tennessean Titans, the Los Angeles Police Department, and the Nashville Sports Council.

Through such career services, as well as first-year programs and experiential learning activities, Cumberland is producing students equipped to learn, work, and lead in the workplace and in life.

As Hayden noted, at Cumberland University, “the whole person is educated to live a productive and inspired future.”