Experiential Learning For Youth Pays Big Dividends

By Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, The Money Coach®

Ever since my youngest daughter Alexis was 7 years old, she’s been saying she wants to become a doctor. At first, I honestly didn’t put much stock in it. After all, kids change their minds all the time when asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

But, six months passed, then a year went by, and Alexis was still insistent that she wanted to become a physician. In fact, she started watching YouTube videos of medical surgeries and took a keen interest in science. So, even though it took a while, I finally got the hint: It was time to encourage her in the area of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and see where her passions might take her.

Once I did, Alexis thrived. She took coding classes and introductory engineering courses for youth. She won her school Science Fair. Last summer, she went to the University of Georgia to attend a pre-college health program for middle school children. Alexis is now 13 years old and she’s heading back to Georgia for the “advanced” component of UGA’s Mini Medical School program.

A key feature of this initiative is that kids get to engage in hands-on learning, like performing dissections. They also do career shadowing with experts in the medical field.

 Experiential learning can help today’s youth in three key ways:

  1. By giving kids on-the-job type exposure to a given field, the young person can truly discover what they like and what they don’t.
  2. A youngster who becomes familiar with a particular line of work and its requirements can make better academic and career choices about his or her future.
  3. Armed with a strong sense of what to expect, students who’ve had real-life shadowing experiences may be less likely to later switch majors in college or drop courses they don’t like or need for graduation — two scenarios that can add thousands of dollars in tuition and extend the time needed to complete a degree.

Additionally, job shadowing is a great way to start developing a network of experts and contacts in a given industry. Fortunately, there are many ways to help a young person find a shadowing opportunity.

In California, there are more than 250 college and universities — many of which offer experiential learning and summer programs for young people under the age of 18. In addition to higher education institutions, many private businesses and public employers are willing to provide shadowing initiatives to introduce teens to a particular career or industry. Simply contact those of interest. Finally, many trade groups and professional organizations offer experiential learning for youth, too.

Ultimately, a young person can shadow a working professional for a few hours or even a few weeks. In the end, that experience can be life changing — and a smart money-saving move as well!



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