EXL Center promises ‘experiential learning’

Janette Jeffries-Nealy

By Dylan Reynolds, Writer

A new initiative, led by Priceline.com co-founder Jeff Hoffman, is staking its claim in the Student Union and Bierce Library.                                                                                      

The initiative is dubbed “The Experiential Learning Center for Entrepreneurship and Civic Engagement,” but it is commonly referred to as the EXL Center.  The Student Union branch, known as “Career/EXL,” uses the space previously occupied by the Career Center.  

This location is fully operational. Another branch in Bierce Library, called “Create/EXL,” will not open until March 2.

Both locations focus on experiential learning, a hands-on approach to education.  However, each branch will offer different services.  “Career/EXL” is similar to the Career Center, which will enable students to apply learning through co-ops and internships.  “Create/EXL,” on the other hand, focuses on co-working, team building, and special events.

President Scarborough first announced the EXL initiative during his controversial Cleveland City Club speech in May.  In that speech, he said, “The EXL Center will connect even more of our students in more academic disciplines to internships, cooperative work assignments, service learning opportunities, and entrepreneurial activities to give our students the practical experience they need to secure jobs after graduation.”

Scarborough named lifelong entrepreneur Jeff Hoffman the leader of the initiative.  Hoffman has co-founded an array of startup companies including Priceline.com.  He has appeared on national television and in major print publications.  He produced a Grammy award-winning album in 2015, called “The Offense of the Drum.”

Hoffman’s current team includes Faculty Collaboration Director Carolyn Behrman and Resource Director Ian Schwarber. The EXL Center is in the process of hiring additional student assistants to round out the staff.

In an e-mail interview, Schwarber explained the initiative in detail and attempted to dispel possible concerns about the Center.

“We are intended to inventory the experiential learning opportunities across campus… so that we can offer every student one, perhaps more than one opportunity to engage with the real-world while getting college credit… We will be innovating in every way possible, and that begins with creating a social culture that energizes student curiosity and enables their creativity, by offering Hackathons, workshops, speaker series, pitch contests, mentoring labs and unique programs that only can be found at The University of Akron,” Schwarber wrote.                          

There has been some concern about the initiative’s cost, given the university’s current financial shortfall, but Schwarber insists it operates on a tight budget.  While the official budget has not yet been announced, Schwarber maintains that “the cost is very little… We all know we have been tightening our belts on campus.”

“Our motto is ‘experience learning, experience life,’ but we think of our creed as ‘see a problem, solve a problem,’ but truly all we really want to say is ‘Come in,’” Schwarber wrote.

So far, some faculty members familiar with the initiative are optimistic about its premise.  Sociology professor Rebecca Erickson praised the concept of EXL and expressed the necessity of “consistent and tangible support from UA’s higher administration” for its success.  

“If Jeff Hoffman and Carolyn Behrman are given the support and resources to enact the emerging shared vision for the Center, students will benefit immensely,” Erickson said.

Interested students can attend EXL’s first community meeting Wednesday evening, Feb. 3, at 5:30 p.m. in the BLU Jazz+ club.