June, 2019

As summer starts, students continue their learning on and off campus. Whether it’s research with faculty members or hands-on learning in the community, summer learning is important for students in their academic life as well as when they enter the workforce.

Now a sophomore at Gustavus Adolphus College, Maya Lengvenis was awarded the Johnson Fellowship from the college to research mid-range wireless power transfer. She and professor Jessie Petricka are investigating the ability for power to be transferred over a couple inches to a couple feet. “Our long-range applications for this are in the biomedical field, charging things like pacemakers and cochlear implants,” Lengvenis said.

Lengvenis was awarded this fellowship before her first year and was given the option to decide which summer she wanted to do her research in. “Not that many first years get to start off with research right away,” Lengvenis said. “It’s a great opportunity to get my foot in the door in the world of research.”

Lengvenis is living on campus with a small group of students and is excited about the opportunity to learn outside of the traditional classroom. “Even though we’re on campus and in a classroom, it feels different than class,” Lengvenis said. “And I’m learning so much that I’m not sure I could learn during the semester.”

Petricka, an associate professor of physics, agrees with Lengvenis that this is a great way to learn — and very different than the traditional classroom experience. “Longer-term independent research with a faculty member like this in the summer really allows for exploration that is broad and tests one’s problem-solving skills,” Petricka said. “Just in a few weeks Maya has already learned four new computer programs and many things that traditionally she’d learn much later in her college career. Summer is the time students can do this type of exploration.”

“We as a community need to focus on how we can provide these types of learning experiences to more students and to a broader representation of students,” Petricka said. “It’s important that every student has the opportunity to do this type of exploration.”

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Andrew Bailey is also expanding his learning during the summer. He is a senior at The College of St. Scholastica and is a Phillips Scholar. The Phillips Scholars Program supports students with a scholarship and a stipend to undertake a community-based project. Working with St. Scholastica, community organizations and others, Bailey hosted a weekend-long leadership conference for middle school students in Duluth.

“We did a lot of reaching out to organization in Duluth for partnerships,” Bailey said. “We knew that partnering with organizations was going to be the best way to reach students. We wanted these organizations to see us as a resource.”

Bailey’s personal experience with leadership development inspired him to offer this conference to students in Duluth who might not have many opportunities like this. “Thinking back to the opportunities I’ve had — they’re the reason why I’m in student government and leadership,” Bailey said. “I wanted to share similar opportunities with students and families right here in Duluth. It was also important for me to eliminate as many barriers as possible.”

“The summer gave us some time to have everyone soak the program material in,” Bailey said. “If everyone had to go back to school on Monday — it might have been too much information to process.”

Andrea Mayer, director of career development at Concordia University, St. Paul, sees the impact of summer learning. “It’s critical that students are engaged during the summer,” Mayer said. “Whether it’s research, an internship, volunteering or a job — these experiences can be very impactful.”

Summer opportunities aren’t just important for the student’s academics success, but employers are looking for candidates with a broad range of skills. “In these types of opportunities students often learn a complementary set of skills than when they’re in the classroom,” Mayer explained. “Skills like professionalism, collaboration and business acumen are extremely important to employers and these types of experiences teaches them.”

“Connecting summer learning with your major or program is a great idea,” Mayer said. “Think about these opportunities in a holistic way and how they help you achieve your long-term goals.”

However students are squeezing extra value from these months before classes start up again, Mayer thinks it is worth reminding them to balance their obligations with the opportunities of the season. “You can still have fun while gaining skills,” she said. “Don’t stress out too much about finding the “perfect” opportunity — remember to enjoy your summer!”

By Tom Lancaster