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Vanderbilt Launches Immersion Program

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November 13, 2018

Vanderbilt University just launched a program that is the first of its kind. Incoming first years are required to complete an Immersion Vanderbilt project. Students can begin planning their experience via one of four pathways: International, Civic & Professional, Creative Expression, or Research. We spoke with Carolyn Floyd, the Associate Director of the Office of Immersion Resources, to see how study abroad fits into their endeavors. 

This is the first year that all Vanderbilt freshman are required to take part in the Immersion program. What do you hope students will take from this experience after graduation? 

The faculty conceptualized Immersion Vanderbilt as a means for students to enrich their Vanderbilt education by completing an academically rigorous project based on an individualized experiential learning process.Students are going to select their own topics and pursue their passions through their Immersion projects. Each project will be completed under the close advisement of a faculty mentor. In this way, the student experience will be enhanced through a deeper understanding of something that truly interests them. Students will also develop the Immersion Vanderbilt project from an idea to a final project, which will be so valuable in their future endeavors. Immersion Vanderbilt is part intellectual exercise, part project management, and part self-reflection. We are asking students to consider what really drives them and then to turn that into a project that will have a spot on their permanent transcript. I am hoping that students gain from this experience the ability to identify and articulate their passions, the framework to create a project that helps them examine that passion in an academic and meaningful way, and the confidence that this set of skills sets them apart as they move onto the next phase of their lives.

How did this program come to life? Tell us the origin story. 

In 2014, the Academic Strategic plan articulated a commitment to creating an environment that educates the whole person. Vanderbilt is fortunate to have faculty and students whose passions drive them to create and learn in ways that push past the boundaries of the classroom. Immersion was a natural addition to the vibrant environment that already existed. The campus has committed resources, such as my office, to support and guide the students as they begin their Immersion projects. With the guidance of a Faculty Steering Committee and a host of other campus partners, the Office of Immersion Resources (OIR) has developed events, workshops, online systems, and many other resources built on the framework that was created in the early years. The very first Immersion students arrived on campus in the summer and we were eager to speak with them about this opportunity Vanderbilt has created. When the students begin their experiences then Immersion will truly come to life. In a few years, the OIR will begin to showcase the first Immersion projects. That will be a very exciting time.

How does study abroad and the international pathway naturally fit into this? 

Studying abroad is so naturally immersive. Students get to live the experience day in and day out for the duration of their trip. The opportunity to seek and discover is innate. For Immersion, students will think about their purpose for going before they study abroad and will spend their time abroad making progress toward their final project. 

In addition to overseas travel, students who engage in the International pathway in any way will gain the mind-opening experience that an international lens uniquely provides. The entrenchment in researching or living another culture pushes the bounds of understanding and is a catalyst for growth through experience. The academic development that will occur through the International pathways opportunities is a hallmark of an Immersion experience.  

It seems like students could complete research projects, performances, or reflections while studying abroad that could fit with their pathway.

Yes, and that is what we expect they will do. The four pathways of Immersion can intersect and blend in a multitude of ways. The International pathway lends itself to this blending as students pursue opportunities in those areas on an international stage. I am excited to see how students combine their interests in these pathways to create unique projects that cross and intersect different disciplines and passions.