Thematic learning provides lessons in business, philanthropy
Water is a bit of a conundrum.
Despite the Earth’s overall abundance of it, it remains relatively scarce in many areas, especially for drinking and bathing.
This reality is a part of the reason why a group of faculty leaders at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast chose water as the first topic to launch the institution’s foray into thematic learning—an instructional approach that centers multiple disciplines toward one concept.
Office Administration Program Chair Michelle Hagan-Short introduced the idea in her Business Communication course as a single project during fall 2013. Now a teaching veteran of thematic learning for nearly three years, Hagan-Short says students benefit from the experience in various ways.
“Most importantly, the projects provide students an opportunity to work collaboratively, apply theory learned in the classroom, and create a business that may serve others in their community or internationally,” she says.
Students currently participating in thematic learning are enrolled in one of three business courses—Business Communication, Business Ethics and Social Responsibility, or Principles of Management—and are responsible for establishing a business, conducting fundraising activities, and contributing to a water-oriented cause.
Previous students have sponsored a rain garden for North Campus, sent water filtration straws to countries that need clean water, and partnered with a nonprofit group to provide clean water and soap to individuals without access to either.
Among the most recent students to complete this beyond-the-classroom experience is Cara Macknick, a business administration major who served as team leader for Cloudburst—a seven-member group consisting of students enrolled in one of the thematic-learning business courses during fall 2015.
“Before attending Ivy Tech, I wanted to become a freshwater marine biologist, so attending a class that involved water was fitting for me,” Macknick says.
Inspired by a rain barrel that Macknick owns, Cloudburst decided to modify plastic barrels into rain barrels and donate 10 of them to Burmese refugee families with vegetable gardens through the Jetavana Buddhist Monastery and another nine to the Slataper Street Farm, an organic urban farm.
The team sold books, conducted a laser tag fundraiser, and solicited donations from family and friends to purchase the barrels from the St. Joe, Ind.-based Sechler’s Pickles. A hardware superstore provided metal spigots and related supplies at a discount.
Cloudburst completed its task before the semester’s end and placed the rain barrels in storage. Some of the team members reassembled April 6 to deliver their gifts to designated community members.
“The best advice I have from this experience is that it’s not about the project or its theme: it’s about the process,” Macknick says. “Remember, failure is an option, but what you learn and how you fix problems is what counts.”
Associate Professor of Business Administration Carla Quickel, who teaches Principles of Management, says Cloudburst maintained an excitement about its project that became contagious.
“The team embraced its idea with rain barrels, and it worked hard in the planning phases, actual procurement of supplies, and production process,” Quickel says. “Being involved with this team from a teaching and advising role was gratifying.”
Ivy Tech Northeast’s thematic learning will focus on wellness beginning in the fall, and it’s expected to add courses from the agriculture, health sciences, and culinary arts disciplines.