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School of Natural and Social sciences offers students hands-on experience

Chances are, if you’re friends with any psychology or criminal justice majors, you’re used to hearing things like “I’m going to prison on Monday” or “Tuesday I’ll be at drug court.”

While this may seem a little strange to the outsider, these are just some of the unique opportunities MVNU offers to students that partner learning and practical experience.

Within the School of Natural and Social Science, the fields of criminal justice, engineering, and psychology are especially hands-on.

As part of their field observation, first-year criminal justice students have the opportunity to ride with on-duty police officers. At the end of the year, students will have received 30 hours of field observation in various criminal justice related agencies. Professor Merel Pickenpaugh stresses the importance of this opportunity.

“I feel it is important for them to get a feel of what criminal justice is like,” Pickenpaugh said.

“Other schools do this, but not too many. This gives them a chance first-hand to see what the field is like in all reality.”

Criminal justice major Ryan Thurman said this experience helped to dispel some of the myths of policing.

“This isn’t like the movies where every day they go out, get in shoot outs and catch bad guys,” Thurman said. “This is real life where sitting around doing paperwork is a part of their job.”

Thurman emphasized the practicality of experiencing this in the first year of the program.

“We get a strong taste of reality from the get-go of how policing works,” he said.

Likewise, criminal justice major Marisah Johnson’s experience was formative and helped to affirm her future career. Johnson shadowed a Newark Police officer and witnessed the chase of a domestic violence offender.

“This experience has benefited me by helping me be able to see how each department plays a role in helping ensure goodness, safety, peace and discipline in each community,” Johnson said.

“Going through these experiences have helped me to decide what I am wanting to do with the rest of my life.”

Students also go on multiple field trips per year to different correctional facilities, court settings and police departments in order to see the full spectrum of future employment opportunities.

Along with first-year criminal justice students, first-year engineering students are getting hands-on experience in their field. Students are currently working on three engineering projects within the community. The first group designed and built the sets for the Drama department’s performance of “Anon(ymous).” Project Manager and engineering student Bryce Maners appreciates the hands-on discovery that projects like this brings.

“Not all the answers are given in class,” Maners said. “We have to apply ourselves and find the answers…I think that all this ‘extra’ work is really what makes this program so much fun.”

Partnership with the Drama department and working with people outside of the engineering field has allowed these students to sharpen their communication skills as well. Professor David Winyard sees this as a valuable learning opportunity for students.

“The students are getting practice communicating with non-engineers, translating their requirements into terms necessary for engineering work, and then working to satisfy the sponsors and the customers they represent,” Winyard said. “So the benefit to students is to learn from practice versus theory.”

The second project of the semester is working alongside Mount Vernon City Engineer Cameron Keaton to create a rain garden to combat storm water runoff in a parking lot. Freshmen engineering student and Deputy Project Manager Caleb Ledford assists in leading the group and working with the city engineering department.

“Most things done in Engineering are done in teams, so the more exposure we get working with a group, the better,” Ledford said. “I also think I am benefitting greatly from working on a real life project…this feels very life-like as we work alongside the city engineer to solve and design a solution for our project problem.”

Engineering students have also partnered with Enactus to explore the possibility of implementing a solar rain purification system in Belize.

Psychology students in the Theories of Learning course completed a study of positive reinforcement observing rats in a laboratory setting. Dr. Randy Cronk has been teaching the course and supervising the experiment for 31 years and enjoys seeing the students apply their knowledge in a practical setting.

“In addition to observing the principles of learning, for most of them it is the first time they have worked with a live mammal in a laboratory, so there is some learning about how such a lab operates,” Cronk said.

Students work in pairs to record data and supervise their subject. Allison Kelsey, a sophomore criminal justice and psychology major, is grateful for the experience to develop skills needed for her future career.

“This lab experiment has helped me get hands on experience and a better understanding of how the human mind works,” Kelsey said.

Criminal justice, engineering, and psychology students are among many students who receive practical experience while here at MVNU. These experiences are invaluable and allow students to fully engage in their major field of study.

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