Engaging students in projects in the community models a learning process that will be useful to them as citizens, and knowledge acquired through repeated involvement in complex situations increases the likelihood that this knowledge will be used (Bransford & Vye, 1989 in Eyler, 2002).
The Gap Experience is a semester-long, experiential based service-learning program designed for incoming first-year students. The Gap Experience seeks to deepen the experience of communio by promoting transformative student learning; addressing real community needs; building relationships of mutuality; and working for the common good. Through a unique combination of outdoor adventure challenge, demanding study and travel abroad, students are emboldened to confront complex social-justice issues and engage in real-world solutions to these problems.
2018 Gap Summary:
Gap has wrapped up its fifth year! As an accredited experiential based education program, we are one of the longest lasting in the nation. Other colleges or institutions have piloted programs resembling Gap, however, with little success. We are proud to have completed our fifth year on a high. We had a competitive year with 30 applicants to the program and only 16 student spots available. We are ecstatic to have had such a rigorous applicant pool to choose from. This year we implemented interviews and additional screening measures to ensure top candidates were admitted. As a result, admitted students’ average GPA was a 3.54 and average ACT score was a 26. We had three out-of-state students, one from Minnesota and two from Illinois. The remaining 13 were from various Wisconsin regions. Our 2018 Gap student’s interests are wide. They entered college interested in anything from International Studies to Biology to Communications and Media Studies. Several hoped to complete medical school or go on to law school while others were undeclared or unsure. This year proved, yet again, that the Gap Experience is suited for students interested in a variety of disciplines and can offer clarification for those unsure.
A new learning tool, the Gap Experience Journal, was created this year to accompany the semester field experience. This comprehensive 162-page journal was a huge success! It allowed for deeper reflection, increased feedback opportunities from leaders and provided students a way to document their personal transformation and the details of their site visits.
This year we piloted a new location and traveled to the border town of El Paso, Texas to participate as a group in a border immersion program. This new partnership with Iglesia Luterana Cristo Rey proved to be a worthy investment. Our experience at the border was certainly a heart-wrenching challenge as we confronted the complexities of immigration in our country. However, it was also full of hope and first-hand learning. We engaged with and heard from several community organizations and members who have taken action on behalf of themselves and their community. These themes of grass-roots advocacy, service, and a deep commitment to community are values in tune with the Gap program’s mission. As a result, we have decided to continue this partnership next year and hope to make it a regular part of our programming.
It is our firm belief in developing relationships of mutuality with our partner organizations. We believe in creating sustainable partnerships with those organizations we work with year after year and, as a result, we hired a former Gap student, Madeline Schultz-Gap ‘15, to conduct a semester-long research project for our partners at the Brother David Darst Center in Chicago. This outreach project assisted our partners in gathering important reflection data on the impacts of the Darst retreat on our past cohorts, helped identify areas of improvement for the retreat structure and follow-up process and offered suggestions on ways the Center can best connect with past students. Madeline designed her questions in coordination with the Darst staff and executed her research by gathering first-hand accounts from Gap students, past and present, on campus. We were proud to have been able to offer this type of qualitative data to our partners and see this initiative as a demonstration of our commitment to engaged student learning beyond the Gap semester.
In the name of building learning opportunities–our office created two new student employment positions in the spring of 2018. One focused on social media and marketing and the other on building initiatives that bridge the Gap semester experiences back to campus. A great initiative that came from this was a Voter Registration and Education session hosted by our student employee, Brinn Anderson. She orchestrated a session with the 2018 Gap cohort during their time on campus in September to ensure each knew how to register to vote and make a request an absentee ballot for the 2018 midterm elections. It was a fantastic collaboration and one we see as instrumental to shape active citizens. These positions compliment and work together with our already established student position overseeing our Gear Garage, which is an initiative that originated from the Gap Office several years ago and its goal is to encourage outdoor recreation and adventuring by loaning out gear and providing trip and logistical planning for those interested in outdoor adventures.
As we welcomed our fifth cohort to campus it meant saying goodbye and good luck to two of the “originals”. Peyton Going and Joseph Beck were both part of the inaugural Gap Experience program in 2014. Peyton graduated and went on to complete an internship with Voyageur Outward Bound School in Ely, Minnesota, while Joseph is pursuing a Master of Science in Recreation with an emphasis on recreational therapy at Indiana University. Read more from them both here:
First Gap cohort Graduates SNC
This upcoming spring we will see our second cohort of students graduate with 12 of the original 16 leaving SNC better prepared to tackle today’s complex social and environmental issues.
The new year brings exciting promise for the Gap program! We are energized by the current application cycle and the prospect of continuing to deliver this rigorous and transformative program with a new group in the fall of 2019.
2018 Gap Student
“In the wide open space of the wilderness, I felt more grounded and connected than I ever have in my life, allowing for an immense amount of personal growth to happen.”
Gap’s Assessment Results:
In 2018, Gap embarked on a mission of data collection. We knew our first cohort was about to graduate and we wanted to be able to gather data that could be used to compare against the wider SNC student population. We are thrilled to share with you some of the highlights that our data demonstrated.
- Gap students indicated a higher commitment to the development of next generation and improving the community than the greater SNC population and study abroad students.
- Gap students reported having more discussions about major social issues with students whose values and beliefs were different from their own than the greater SNC population and study abroad students.
- Gap students felt more confident taking initiative and leading a team to accomplish a goal than the greater SNC population and the study abroad students.
- Gap students reported seeking out service opportunities 13.6% more than the greater SNC population and 6.1% more than study abroad students.
- Gap students believe that the program shaped their college experience by increasing their confidence, helping them gain a more worldly perspective, assisting them in stepping out of their comfort zone, contributing to feeling a greater sense of community, and expanding their leadership skills.
2018 Gap Student
“I can see how even despite hardships, true human connections are what really matter and help individuals persevere, and to go even further make those hardships even more worth it in the end.”
Gap 2018 Video Recap
Featured Learning: 2018 Digital Stories
View all outstanding 2018 digital stories by visiting the Digital Commons
Read Student Reflections:
These are links to our personal reflections from 2018 cohort on their time as Gap students. This project was part of a required reflection course taught by Dr. Laura Fredrickson, Director of the Gap Experience. Each link will bring you to a student’s own domain where you will find a brief essay that describes their personal transformation.
Gap Grads in the Spotlight:
Publicity for Gap:
This year we were interviewed for a feature about the Gap Experience Program by Education writer Melissa Korn from the Wall Street Journal
The Gap Experience was highlighted in a benchmarking project for Stanford’s Haas Center for Public Service to gather information on best practices about Gap and semester-long transformative living/learning experiences
2018 Gap Student
“I have the chance to use my voice, my privilege, my ability to climb the ladder freely, to advocate for the marginalized communities like those in the Far South Side. I don’t know exactly how, but I plan to do so”