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The Power of Early-Year Experiential Learning to Increase Student Engagement & Equity: Insights from Delaware State University, By: Zoe Mills 

Post-secondary education presents a significant challenge: retaining students beyond their first year. Many high-impact practices are typically tailored for those further along in their academic journey, leaving early-year students with limited resources and opportunities. In this blog post, we delve into Delaware State University’s innovative lab internship program, designed to empower and engage first- and second-year students, with a strong focus on fostering early-stage engagement and equity.


Key Takeaways from This Podcast: 

  • Breaking Down Barriers: One distinctive feature of this program is its removal of specific GPA requirements and the need for faculty recommendations. It’s intentionally structured to be completed on-campus during regular school hours, ensuring that experiential learning is readily accessible to students in the early stages of their education. This approach opens the doors wide to welcome these students into the exciting world of hands-on learning within the lab.
  • Promising Outcomes: The results of this program are nothing short of impressive. Students who participate not only gain valuable experience but also exhibit a significant increase in their interest and commitment to their chosen majors. Additionally, the program ignites their enthusiasm for off-campus internships and other learning experiences, broadening their horizons and career opportunities. But the benefits don’t end there.
  • Building Stronger Bonds: This initiative also works to strengthen the connections between faculty and students, enhancing the overall effectiveness of education. As early-year learners engage in hands-on experiences, they create meaningful relationships with their instructors, who can guide and support them throughout their academic journey. This initiative also broadened perspectives and bridged ideas on delivery of EL between faculty, even faculty in different disciplines.
  • A Growing Movement: These findings underscore the urgent necessity of acknowledging experiential learning as a vital component for early-year learners, particularly noting that it grew year-over-year and as funding became more available.  It not only boosts student retention but also empowers them to explore boundless possibilities beyond the classroom’s confines. 

In conclusion, early access to experiential learning is a game-changer in the post-secondary education landscape. Delaware State University’s lab internship program serves as a shining example of how removing barriers and prioritizing early engagement can transform the educational experience, equitably paving the way for students to navigate their learning and career journeys with confidence and success.

Meet Our Guests


Meet Joseph Fees
Man smiling at camera wearing golf shirt and blazer, greenery backdropJoseph Fees is an Associate Professor of Spanish and has been teaching at Delaware State University since 2014.    He is also the Online Coordinator for the College of Humanities, Education, and Social Sciences (CHESS) and the Bridge Liaison for Spanish dual-enrollment partner high schools in Delaware.  His research and project interests include online and virtual effective teaching practices, teaching methodologies, learning assessment, applied linguistics, and faculty development.

Meet Dr. Alexa Silver

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Dr. Silver, a 2004 Ph.D. graduate of American University, is a History Professor at Delaware State University. Her research and professional interests include working with local historical organizations to expand their educational programming and supporting the professional development of educators at all levels. While Program Director for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Inclusive Excellence grant, Dr. Silver developed diverse programming for faculty and students at Delaware State University, most recently focusing on experiential education, particularly its application in the classroom and co-curricular campus opportunities.  Dr. Silver also has a Master of Science in Education from Johns Hopkins University (1992), a Master of Letters in British History from the University of Edinburgh (1987) and earned her Bachelor’s of Art in History at Kenyon College (1983).

Meet Erin Perchiniak

Woman in white blouse, smiling at camera with lanyard, brown long hair, parted to side

Erin Perchiniak is an Associate Professor at Delaware State University in the department of biological sciences.  She earned her PhD in pharmacology and toxicology from Virginia Commonwealth University and has spent several years exploring apoptotic cell death and how mutations to genes within this pathway can contribute to carcinogenesis. In addition to research, she enjoys teaching and is very interested in expanding and sustaining internship and workforce training opportunities for undergraduates in STEM.  

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