Career development

Experiential learning opportunities enhance student knowledge and marketability


The Walla Walla University School of Business is unique among most business programs in that all business students must complete a formal internship as part of their educational requirements. Thanks to Darel Harwell, the new WWU employer relations coordinator, all WWU students have more internship opportunities than ever. The catalyst for this new position within the Student Development Center was a 2016 comprehensive study conducted by business student Paul Trapani ’17 and sponsored by alumni Paul Rhynard ’04 and Deanne Rhynard ’04. Harwell answered a few questions about the value of experiential learning.

What is experiential learning?
Darel Harwell:
Experiential learning is moving to the forefront of higher education nationally and is quickly becoming the deciding factor in hiring decisions for employers looking at recent graduates. Experiential learning includes practicums, mentorships, research assistantships, volunteer work, internships, and a variety of other formats that are all about gaining experience that allows students to apply a quality liberal arts education to the real world. Additionally, it starts the process of networking in a students’ fields of interest and provides them with projects and experiences to discuss during interviews.

Do you match students with positions?
DH: I do meet with students and make recommendations about opportunities. However, I encourage students and employers to think of the process in terms of the position. I work with employers to create job descriptions that include details about the skills and responsibilities they want in a candidate. This allows students to look for opportunities that align with their major and the skills they are learning in the classroom. Students then apply directly to the employer. It is a competitive process and one that is, in and of itself, very beneficial for our students.

How far afield do these opportunities go?
DH: We have opportunities locally, regionally, nationally, and even overseas. Companies worldwide and across virtually any industry have opportunities for students to engage.

How have students responded?
DH: Experiential learning and its role in their academic journey is a fairly new concept for many students. As with anything new, the first step can be a little scary. What is perhaps most telling is the response I get from students during and after their internships. They are excited, they are doing work that they feel matters, and they are learning from individuals who have five, 10, 20 years of experience. Their view of education and of themselves is broadened.

How have employers responded?
DH: Employers are largely excited about the idea of hosting students in their organizations. Smaller companies benefit from the added personnel, and our students often fill skills gaps in their structure, assisting with elements of a project that a small business might otherwise not have access to. Larger organizations recognize the opportunity to scout talent among upcoming graduates. When meeting with students, I encourage them to realize that whether an employer mentions it or not, they are going to evaluate how an intern might benefit their company. Make yourself of great value and opportunities are often extended.

Do WWU students have a broad range of experiential learning opportunities?
DH: The creation of experiential learning opportunities is really driven by the employer and their organizations’ needs. For that reason, student positions emerge from many sectors, across virtually all industries.

Do you work with WWU alumni to create opportunities? How have they responded?
I do work with alumni, and they are fantastic. WWU is a great institution, and the experience of being a student here has a lasting impact. As I am reaching out to employers to discuss opportunities, I am continuously meeting graduates of our institution at all levels within organizations, many of whom started as interns! Alumni know the quality of education they received here and are therefore interested in our students as interns and future employees.

Where can readers go to learn about sponsoring an intern?
DH: Employers and partners who are interested in sponsoring a student intern can reach out to me. We work together to discuss what it is they want to accomplish, create position descriptions, and then broadcast the opportunity across campus via a variety of channels. They can also explore our employer relations web page, which provides information not only about internships and experiential learning, but a host of other ways to connect with students, such as career fairs, on-campus recruiting, mock interviews, group projects, and job shadows, to name a few.

For more information about the SDC and the opportunities it provides students and employers, contact Darel Harwell at (509) 527-2089 or, or visit

Posted Sept. 13, 2018

Harwell, resplendent in suit coat and tie, smiles for the camera.
Harwell develops relationships with employers and students to help both find the right match for experiential learning opportunities.
A company recruiter talks with a student at a career fair at WWU.
Experiential learning is quickly becoming the deciding factor in hiring decisions for employers looking at recent graduates.