Vast majority of ’20 graduates left U-M with engaged learning experience despite pandemic

August 19, 2021
Contact: Laurel Thomas

Like so many students in the middle of engaged learning experiences when the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted education at the University of Michigan, Edward Peper and his classmates were challenged to find a solution to continue their hands-on research.

Their task, working with the U-M Transportation Institute, was to use simulation software and a motion-based platform to mimic driver behavior. Students created traffic scenarios involving distracted drivers to see how subjects would react to unexpected road events. Key to measuring response was a motion-seat platform located at the institute.

So Peper, a computer science engineering graduate and motion platform algorithm engineer for the Real-Time Driving Simulator team within the college’s Multidisciplinary Design Program, ordered parts to create a mini motor in order for the team to have a substitute physical motion device in their homes.

Peper, now a software engineer at General Motors, represents the 96% of 2020 graduates who say the pandemic did not keep them from having an engaged learning experience during their U-M careers.

“Our work didn’t suffer just because we were apart. Everyone that I had a pleasure to work with was really dedicated and treated it like a school project,” Peper said. “They wanted it to get done on time; wanted to go above and beyond.”

An annual report on engaged learning activities—educational opportunities that give students a chance to build their capacities as contributors to future communities—showed static levels of participation overall among 7,300 graduating students in internships, civic engagement, international experiences, research, client projects, and creative or entrepreneurial activities over their careers at U-M.

Further, there were some increases in underrepresented minority, first-generation, transfer and Pell grant student participation. International participation in engaged activities overall was up slightly, but both domestic and international students reported a decrease in internships. Female students continued to report more experiences than males across most categories except entrepreneurship and client project experiences.

Each year since the survey began in 2017, 96% of students annually have self-reported being involved in an engaged learning experience. In 2020, 85% of them had more than one experience, only slightly lower than the year before. The survey includes students who graduated in May and December 2020.

Engaged Learning Census infographic. Image courtesy: Engaged Michigan

“The 2020 report is encouraging and remarkable. To me it is a testimony to the resiliency of our students and our partners who engage them,” said Valeria Bertacco, vice provost for engaged learning.

“In the middle of the winter 2020 semester, many students’ experiences were abruptly suspended. Many students could not continue their research projects, were suddenly grounded from travel and from in-person activities, and saw several planned opportunities evaporate as outside organizations altered their work plans.

“Yet, many students like Edward Peper found alternate ways to bring their endeavors to success. We keep learning every day of creative ways people found to continue their work or to pursue engaged learning activities working around the constraints on the ground.”

Bertacco notes it is a careerwide survey that includes students’ engaged learning experiences before the pandemic, so it may be too early to see the full impact of COVID-19.

Co-written by Kirsten Andrews


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