It’s All About the Experience
Since joining New York Tech in 2006, Adrienne McNally, director of experiential education in the Office of Career Success and Experiential Education, has watched hundreds of students flourish into becoming professionals in their respective fields. One key to their growth is exactly what McNally works to develop—experiential education opportunities.
Experiential education, or learning by doing, plays an invaluable role in New York Tech students’ academic experience. Internships, cooperative education (co-op), micro-internships, volunteering, and student club involvements all serve as ways to strengthen the tie between academic and professional development.
Along with the importance of developing skills that translate from the classroom to the field and beyond, experiential education gives students the tools to identify how the work they’re doing is meaningful. McNally explains that working at an internship is not just about the work; it’s also about the greater meaning—how the experience will help the student grow and thrive in their future career.
“Students need to be able to explain in an interview, or while they’re networking, or on their résumé, why what they did was important and meaningful for the next step,” she says.
McNally recalls one student who worked in the Community Service Center (CSC) while pursuing a marketing career. Working in the CSC and seeing how the nonprofit sector operated inspired this student to use her marketing skills to make a difference in her community.
“She really shifted her focus and then started working in more service-oriented organizations with her expertise in marketing,” McNally says. “This is one of the things that we try to drive home for students—you can use your skills at work, and you can use your skills to help solve community problems when you’re not at work.”
While she thrives in her hands-on, student-facing role, McNally didn’t know from the start that higher education would be her calling. With a passion for math and problem-solving and growing up with a father who worked as a mechanical engineer, she thought her natural next step would be in an engineering profession, so she earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from Northeastern University. While there, she was a self-described “super-active student” and participated in a handful of collegiate extracurriculars, including as president of the Society of Women Engineers and member of the Institute of Industrial Engineers. Heavily involved in student life, McNally was no stranger to the faculty and jumped at the chance to participate in the university’s restructuring of semesters. And so began her motivation to find a career working directly with students. While in a Ph.D. program at Lehigh University, McNally realized that traditional faculty roles weren’t for her. She switched to a master’s in management science program and set off on her future course to help shape the student experience.
In 2009, when she was assistant director of experiential education in what was then known as the Office of Career Services, she made her first big move at New York Tech: creating and launching the Internship Certificate Program (ICP) with Amy Bravo, senior director of career success and experiential education. Open to domestic and international students alike, the ICP goes beyond the traditional parameters of working at an internship. Participating through the ICP generates additional internship support for students through personal guidance from career advisors, employer evaluations, and confirmation that learning goals are being met and professional development is occurring.
“The ICP has been my baby here and a really good contribution to the institution,” McNally says of the program, which has afforded more than 2,000 students the chance to have supported, real-world experience outside their traditional learning environment. “The more support we can offer our students, the better. I want them to have a meaningful experience when they’re here and meet their academic and professional goals.”
Recently, the value of experiential education at New York Tech was reflected in its addition to the general education curriculum, as outlined in the university’s Strategic Action Plan. As the university continuously aims to optimize student success, McNally participated in a subcommittee to guide the infusion of experiential education opportunities into the general education curriculum. As stated in the plan, the widespread implementation of these “high-impact educational practices” and “evidence-informed learning experiences” is designed to prepare students to “enter their professions with a deeper and more well-rounded understanding of the world.”
Other student experience initiatives McNally helped to develop include a variety of civic engagement activities like Consultants for the Public Good, which connects the university community to nonprofit organizations for volunteer opportunities; Community Engagement Day, during which students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to volunteer with nonprofits, educate others, and promote community projects; and the Community Service Center, where students can get involved to provide solutions for local community needs.
Her efforts to broaden the offerings available to students have not gone unnoticed—the Office of Career Success and Experiential Education received the 2021 National Society of Experiential Education Outstanding Experiential Education Program Award. The award recognized the programs—specifically mentioning the ICP and Consultants for the Public Good—overseen by the experiential education team and the effects they have had on New York Tech’s campus and the surrounding community.
Outside of the office, McNally, a self-proclaimed nerd who “still gets newspapers delivered to my house,” enjoys a daily crossword puzzle and Stephen King novels. For fellow voracious readers, she recommends her favorite, The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. Students who visit her office will enjoy gazing at a hobby she keeps on display, 5-D painting—works of art using plastic diamonds to illustrate a picture.