A leader in experiential education at West Virginia University has been named director of the Honors College Experiential and Community Engaged Learning Program.
Clarissa Estep, teaching professor of political science and director of the International Studies Program, brings more than 15 years of involvement in the areas of service learning, professional field experience and education abroad to the position.
The EXCEL Program allows WVU undergraduate students to pursue long-term experiential and community-engaged learning projects that align with their interests and goals. The program is open to all WVU students with a GPA of 3.4 or greater who are in the spring semester of their sophomore or fall semester of their junior year.
“We are delighted to have Dr. Estep step into this role at the Honors College,” said Dean Ken Blemings. “She brings a wealth of experience in experiential learning to the director position, most notably her work with Model United Nations. Her leadership and expertise are important for growing the EXCEL program, which will benefit students and faculty engaged in experiential education projects.”
According to Estep, her work with Model United Nations is her “most significant contribution to experiential education at WVU.”
As part of Model UN, students participate in National Model United Nations and assume the role of ambassadors from UN member states to debate current issues on the organization’s agenda.
“While role playing as ambassadors, delegates make speeches, write resolutions, negotiate with allies and adversaries, resolve conflicts and navigate the Model UN rules of parliamentary procedure,” she said. “Model UN encourages the study, discussion, and resolution of global issues, while promoting the development of long-term skills such as researching, writing, public speaking, problem solving and leadership.”
With Estep as their mentor, WVU delegations have been routinely recognized as outstanding or distinguished delegations – awards presented to the top 10% of delegations participating in National Model United Nations conferences.
In addition to her work with WVU students, Estep currently serves as president of the National Model United Nations Board of Directors. She previously served as vice president from 2017 – 2019 and a member from 2016 – 2017.
As a faculty member at WVU, Estep also spent 10 years teaching a service-learning capstone that placed students majoring in multidisciplinary studies with organizations that could benefit from their academic knowledge and individual skills.
“In this hands-on learning experience, students worked in groups of four or five and the overall project included a substantial 120-to-150-hour commitment,” she said. “As the faculty member, I made certain their projects were on schedule throughout the semester while helping the students to connect their practical experience to their academic degree. This cycle of action and reflection is the critical piece of service-learning, so students can achieve real objectives for the community and deeper understanding and skills for themselves.”
During her tenure as course instructor, MDS students helped further the missions of local non-profits like Caritas House, the Bartlett House, Choosy Kids Club, Kaleidoscope, Positive Spin and Senior Monongalians.
As the EXCEL director, Estep plans to leverage her expertise to grow the number of program participants and diversity of projects, highlight the community engaged learning aspects and engage with all students who want to pursue these unique learning opportunities.
“Research tells us that students learn inside the classroom, but they also can learn outside the classroom in a non-traditional way,” she said. “EXCEL allows students to learn by leading projects they are passionate about. I want students at WVU to know that all undergraduate students are eligible for the EXCEL Program – even if they haven’t completed the Honors College Foundations Program. We can help fund, frame and work through your passion project.”