Students offer alternative perspectives on Transformational Experience

Josh Rouse

Part 1 of 2

Surrounded by an entire nation of different cultures and traditions, sophomore Laura Wywadis made sure to take in every detail of her strange new surroundings.

Horizon-broadening encounters like this one are what the Transformational Experience program at Washburn is all about. Whether that experience is traveling across the world to learn a new culture, creating a masterpiece with a paintbrush or volunteering time around the community, the program is put in place to give students a new outlook on the world in which they live.

“Honestly, I do think it’s a good idea,” said Wywadis. “People don’t have to do it to the extent that we did. They don’t have to study overseas to do it.”

As a member of the University Wind Ensemble, Wywadis visited China last May to learn the culture of the country and to perform a concert. The ensemble seized the opportunity to collectively do their experiences. Before they left, they had to first apply and then do a five-page research paper about what they learned. The project will be presented in November and the entire band will be there.

One of the funnier moments of the trip came when Wywadis and a group of friends were in Shanghai. As they walked by the river, the street vendors would follow them everywhere. The vendors kept trying to sell watches to the group, but they kept declining. Finally getting fed up, one of her friends bought a watch for seven yuan renminbi.

“Next thing you know, he walks up to one of the peddlers and tries selling it back,” said Wywadis. “It was pretty funny. You couldn’t get away from them. They would follow you into the bathroom, for crying out loud!”

Amidst the humor, close bonds were developed during the trip. New friends were made, and the experience certainly proved to transform the students.

“I made lifetime friends,” said Wywadis. “I still e-mail some of the people I met at the University of China. I’ll get an e-mail every other week from the people I met. It was an experience I would not trade for the world.”

On the other side of the spectrum, however, there are still many who are apprehensive of yet another requirement to graduate.

To some, like part-time student Scott Stormann, the experience seems to make earning a degree a harder feat to accomplish. Having not heard about the program before, Stormann said that he thought it would be more difficult for people who work 40 hours a week, like himself, to plan for such a thing.

“I don’t really understand what it is,” said Stormann. “It’s going to be harder for people who are working full-time and barely going to school to do that. I don’t think that should apply to everybody.”

Stormann also said that while he thinks the reasoning for the idea is good, he doesn’t think it should be a requirement to graduate. He believes that students should be responsible for the transformation in their lives instead of being forced into it.

“I can experience things on my own without the school making me do something,” said Stormann. “I don’t want to be anti-school, but if I have to do it then I’ll do it.”

Donna LaLonde, director of the Center for Undergraduate Studies and Programs, said that she understands the dread students associate with more requirements. However, she believes the program is an excellent way for students to see the world in a new way, and she hopes that students will not only meet the requirement but perhaps over overachieve and do it twice.

“The top level answer that I have is that you can’t possibly afford not to do this,” said LaLonde. “I say that because I look at folks who are Washburn students, very talented, very committed to the educational process, looking to the future. But you have to recognize that there are a lot of really talented folks out there. So if you want to be competitive in what has become an increasingly competitive environment, I think it’s an opportunity to make yourself stand out.”

As in Wywadis’ case, many of the experiences are also achievable through a class or major, such as a study abroad or scholarly project from class.

“The practical answer is that there are a number of degree programs where you would complete the experience, we call it program-based, as a seamless component of the degree program,” said LaLonde. “If you understand what it takes to get the degree then completing the Transformational Experience as a part of that program won’t require any more or less of you.”

LaLonde also said that one of the best aspects of the program becoming a requirement is that more funding will go into scholarships, as Washburn is responsible for helping the students achieve what is expected of them.

“The university is making a pretty substantial commitment to the Transformational Experience, so opportunities that might not have existed prior to it becoming a requirement exist, and they exist in the terms of certainly more funding for international education scholarships,” said LaLonde. “So yes, it is a requirement, but the university commitment follows that requirement.”