Principia students, across all disciplines, have many opportunities for experiential education through field trips



For a Principia student, the world is a classroom. Many courses offer field trips as part of their curriculum, this semester being no exception.

One of the goals of Principia experiential education is to show students the applicability of classroom concepts to future career work. The Intro to Engineering Profession class, taught by Professor Chris O’Rjordan-Adjah, includes five field trips that cover five disciplines of engineering. After seeing real-world examples of civil, chemical, electrical, mechanical, and petroleum engineering, students can determine the area of engineering that interests them the most.

The first field trip was to Boeing in St. Louis, where planes and weaponry are built. Students explored the Boeing museum and had the chance to speak with one of the facility’s engineers.

During another field trip to the General Motors manufacturing plant in Wentzville, Missouri, students were exposed to an entire production process. The plant they visited manufactures Chevy Colorados, GMC Canyons, and utility vans that are distributed across the country. This particular field trip bridged the gap between personal interests and a future career for sophomore Austin Webster. Webster is an engineering major who hopes to become a mechanical engineer. He said his favorite part of the outing was “getting to see the design process.” In terms of his general experience with Principia field trips he said, “I’ve loved all of them because they’re on topics I’m interested in.” He thinks it would be helpful if students filled out an anonymous questionnaire evaluation after each field trip to help keep student interest and schedules more at the center of field trip design.  

For their third field trip at the Woodriver Refinery in Roxanna, Illinois, students in the Intro to Engineering class learned how Canadian crude oil is refined to yield various byproducts. According to Rjordan-Adjah, this chemical engineering-focused field trip piqued the interest of two students.

To learn more about civil-engineering, the class also visited the St. Louis arch and traveled to Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville to test out the balsa wood truss bridges students built. They visited SIU’s robotics lab, as well.

For Rjordan-Adjah, these field trips help students to understand the importance of what they’re learning in the classroom. He calls his class outings a “win-win,” because students discover what they like, what they don’t like, and what they didn’t know existed.

In October, several acting classes saw the play Until the Flood at St. Louis’ Repertory Theatre. In this one-woman show, actress Dael Orlandersmith played eight different roles, each offering a different perspective regarding the Ferguson shootings of 2014.

Junior Brie Burns said that she enjoyed seeing professionals do what she studied in class.  Burns believes that “college is all about learning how you learn.” Due to the hands-on nature of the workforce, Burns views experiential education as an opportunity to develop one’s ability to learn experientially.

These opportunities will extend overseas this coming semester. Over spring break, Professor Will Buchanan’s class, Topics in Philosophy: Jurisprudence, will be traveling to Berlin, Germany to study the theory of law.

This trip was planned in response to the Principia Administration’s desire to “provide additional opportunities…[and] internationalize the curriculum,” said Stephanie Loveseth, the Abroad Program Manager. Professor Bunchanan suggested Berlin “field trip” to the Principia Abroad Advisor Committee after the Abroad Office asked the faculty for proposals.

According to Buchanan, the trip will examine the progression of Germany’s laws from destruction during the two world wars and a reconstruction period that yielded one of the world’s strongest constitutions.

In addition to seeing some historical landmarks like Tiergarten Square and Brandenburg Gate, the trip will also have themed days. On World War II day, the class will travel to the Topography of Terror Museum and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Checkpoint Charlie and Eastside Gallery, both historical portions of the Berlin Wall, are on the itinerary for Cold War day. Students will also meet Susanne Baer, a judge on the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany.  

Buchanan hopes that students will realize, “there is another way.” He wants students to see different models of law, be comfortable navigating a foreign city, and become “better citizens of the world when they have explored it a bit.”

Students and faculty alike have many adventures to look forward to. Whether traveling to an engineering or to another country, the main goal of Principia field trips are to, as Rjordan-Adjah said, “bridge the gap between theory and practice, between application and the outside world.”