Will Cunningham on the Value of Experiential Learning at Clemson

Will Cunningham smiles at the camera and poses in front of a beige background.

Experiential learning is based on an ongoing, authentic interaction with the world outside a classroom. Will Cunningham, a Lecturer at Clemson University, incorporates Client-Based Programs into his professional writing courses to better prepare his students for life after college. 

Recently, his Business Writing classes collaborated on efforts with Jasmine Road, a nonprofit organization that provides support and services to survivors of sex trafficking and prostitution. Students produced a 65-page research report on current data that would aid organization leaders with proposals and fundraising pitches. They also wrote and submitted a grant proposal to Bank of America and are currently working on a TD Bank grant for Jasmine Road to help them gain funding. 

Cunningham believes these projects are valuable to students because of the practicality of this genre of writing. 

He said, “Development writing and proposal writing are skills that I think a lot of Clemson students are going to encounter, whether you go into corporate America, you work for a private company or you work for a nonprofit organization. Grant-making is a multi-billion dollar industry, so I think it’s a really useful and practical skill for students to be exposed to.” 

When asked about the most challenging part of the project, Cunningham said that his students initially struggled with overcoming the fear of writing in an unfamiliar genre. However, his students ultimately became more sure of themselves and their writing after practice., 

“I saw my students overcome that fear of the unknown…By the end of the project, I felt like I had very confident writers,” Cunningham said. 

As for himself, Cunningham admits that staying organized is one of the most challenging parts of his job due to the additional administrative duties of maintaining a client relationship. When discussing his role in the classroom, he said, “I think that in some ways, my role transitions from teacher to project manager in ensuring that we stay on pace, that everyone is contributing equally, that questions are being answered and that the quality of the product we’re producing is good.”

Cunningham said that implementing experiential learning has a positive impact on his students and helps them navigate possible career paths. 

“I always have students where working for a nonprofit is not on their radar,” he said. “At the end of the class, I’ve been told by several students that they’re now looking at jobs in nonprofit organizations.”

Through his use of experiential learning, Cunningham feels that he is giving students an invaluable glimpse into what working after college could look like, which gives him personal fulfillment. 

“I’m thankful for the client-based projects. It enables me to offer something to students that really does prepare them for the real world,” he said. “The reason I do it is [because] it brings out the best in my students. Something about working on these projects really brings these classes together. There’s a sense of comradery because you share a common goal, and that goal is going to make a positive impact in the world. That brings us all together.”

Students who are interested in participating in Cunningham’s experiential learning courses can reach out to him via his email (wcunnin@clemson.edu) to learn more about how to become involved!

Here are a few “action shots” of when the Operations Director for Jasmine Road, Tory Nicolay, came to class with a catered lunch from their social enterprise and gave a presentation on non-profit fundraising:

Written By: Alli Jennings and Rachel Harley

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