Mark Canada

What does it take to succeed in a career, a community, a family?

What kinds of activities make for a life of fulfillment and well-being?

What if universities could identify these outcomes and activities and then shape the kind of college experience that would lead to everything we want for our young people, our nation and our world?

That’s exactly what we’re doing at IU Kokomo.

Over the past year, we have been designing something we call the IU Kokomo KEY. Short for the “Kokomo Experience and You,” the KEY is a carefully crafted array of transformative learning experiences for our students. Think of it as the best four years of these students’ lives — so far.

The KEY will benefit students in two ways. First, it will engage students in their college lives and increase the likelihood they will graduate. After all, the activities that make up the KEY are exhilarating and fun. Take, for example, the Sophomore Sojourn, which we piloted last year. We sent psychology students to the Indianapolis Zoo to study animal behavior, biology students to the Field Museum in Chicago to study fossils and evolution, and many other students to other places and opportunities, including professional conferences.

Students raved about these experiences. One wrote about the positive “learning experience” she had at the Field Museum and the fun she had being with other students, adding that the experience “tied into our lessons in class perfectly.” Some felt inspired after attending a conference, saying they felt more positive about presenting their own research. One commented on the “valuable” experience of spending time with her instructor and asking her questions.

The KEY to success in college also promises success after college. Consider these facts:

• In a survey conducted by Northeastern University, 93 percent of the business executives who responded indicated that “colleges and universities should expand opportunities for experiential learning.”

• Job Outlook 2016, a publication of the National Association of Colleges and Employers, reports that the majority of employer respondents said they sought the “Ability to work in a team,” “Problem-solving skills,” and “Initiative” on candidates’ resumes.

• The LEAP initiative from the Association of American Colleges & Universities lists “Integrative and Applied Learning,” “Foundations and skills for lifelong learning,” and “Teamwork and problem solving” among its “Essential Learning Outcomes.”

• A study by Gallup and Purdue University found that strong relationships with faculty, practical work experiences, long-term projects and campus engagement are connected with career engagement.

In other words, the ideal college experiences are those that provide students with experiential learning, as well as opportunities to work in a team, solve problems, take initiative, integrate knowledge from various disciplines, apply knowledge, connect with faculty, focus on a subject in a long-term project, and engage with campus.

These are exactly the kinds of experiences IU Kokomo students will have in the KEY — because we designed it that way. We have drawn on this kind of information from employers and more to establish five outcomes for the KEY: application, integration, collaboration, initiative and mindset.

Later in the process, dozens of faculty from every academic unit on campus spent countless hours designing activities that would help students achieve these outcomes. Staff from our Career Services and Student Life offices helped faculty identify ways that co-curricular activities, such as resume and diversity workshops, could contribute to the KEY.

Each unit’s version of the KEY is different, tailored for the students in that discipline. Some students will immerse themselves in art or education-related topics at a retreat center. Others will engage in research projects, work in internships or participate in professional conferences.

Whatever their discipline, students will participate in at least one transformative learning experience each year of their four-year programs. Throughout their experiences, they will make connections — with other students, faculty and staff, the community and careers — and they will engage in authentic learning, the kind that aligns with the real work that professionals do outside college.

The KEY is new, but it builds on a strong foundation at IU Kokomo. Students will continue going to their English, math and other classes, where they can expect to learn actively from highly capable, dedicated instructors. The learning, however, will extend beyond the classroom — way beyond the classroom to the local community, locales across the Midwest, and even distant lands — for experiences that will move, transform and inspire them.

The IU Kokomo KEY is ambitious. It should be. Our students deserve a rich, transformative education. What’s more, our future demands it.

Mark Canada is vice chancellor for academic affairs at Indiana University Kokomo. Contact him at

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