Making a difference for vulnerable children: Experiential learning allows students to engage with their future careers -
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Making a difference for vulnerable children: Experiential learning allows students to engage with their future careers

During the past decade, experiential learning has gained considerable traction across multiple programs at The University of Tulsa. These opportunities – often in the form of internships and externships – empower students to apply the knowledge and skills they have gained in the classroom out there in the working world.

“Internships and externships provide students benefits on so many levels,” said Christy Caves, executive director of TU’s Center for Career Development and Professional Engagement. “First of all, they allow students to prototype or try out a position to see whether they like it or not and really explore different career paths. Second, students are able to gain practical experience in their areas and develop their professional skills. A third beneficial outcome is students are able to build their resumes and references, which make them more marketable for positions after graduation.”

In this article, we shine a light on two different out-of-the-classroom experiences undertaken during summer 2019 by students enrolled at two of TU’s professional colleges: the Oxley College of Health Sciences and the College of Law. While on the surface their stories appear rather different – one entails training to be a nurse and the other to be an attorney – uniting them is a dedication to the well-being of children in challenging circumstances.

“It’s you becoming a nurse.”

For nine weeks between her junior and senior years in TU’s bachelor of science in nursing program, Jessica Stamps – who also holds a bachelor’s degree in public health from the University of Arkansas – externed in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at The Children’s Hospital at Saint Francis, in Tulsa. “I loved the experience from the first day to the last day,” Stamps said. “All the nurses there were so great, and everything was a learning opportunity, from clock in to clock out.”

When she began her externship, Stamps confessed, she felt quite nervous. By the end, however, her confidence had risen exponentially. The change came about through all the empowering opportunities the placement provided for her to engage directly with patient care.

“The biggest thing about an externship is it’s you becoming a nurse,” said Stamps. “It’s way more in depth than just being a student. You have a preceptor, but it’s you learning how to become a nurse.”

Nursing externship: thriving under pressure


“You walk in, you do your initial assessment, you do everything the nurse would. As an extern, you can’t administer medications, but you are able to do important tasks, such as med calculations, priming tubing and setting the pumps. One of the biggest learning experiences is figuring out the charting system. And you get to learn everything about your patients. All the material you’ve been covering in school clicks in your head, and it all starts making sense.”

Working in the PICU also brought Stamps into contact with seriously ill patients. Some of her patients were intubated and couldn’t speak. Some were on as many as 18 different intravenous drips. Many had lines and drains coming out of them, such as PICC lines, art lines, chest tubes, swan lines and JP drains. And, sadly, six of them passed away while in hospital.

Facebook post from the mother of a young patient for whom Jessica Stamps provided careBut there were also moments of great joy, Stamps noted; for instance, the case of one very sick teenager who came perilously close to death. Here is Stamps’ account in her own words: “This patient was on a ventilator and oscillator while intubated for a little over two weeks. After adding the oscillator, we just weren’t sure whether she was going to make it. There appeared to be only one other intervention left to attempt to save her life: putting her on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation.

“But on my next shift back, I was amazed to find this patient extubated and weaning off of conscious sedation. She had even been transferred out of the PICU to another floor. Not long after, the girl’s mother called the night shift staff, knowing her daughter would be discharged the next morning. When I walked through the door and heard my former patient say ‘hi!’ I realized this was the first time I had ever heard her speak. Tears poured down my face at the sound. This is why I want to be a nurse. This is why I keep doing what I’m doing.” (See the Facebook text and image the mother of Stamps’ former patient kindly shared with us for this story. It will melt your heart.)

“It’s my dream career.”

“We were so fortunate to have Vic with us this summer,” said Karen Lindell, a senior attorney at Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia. “Vic has a deep commitment to fighting for the rights of young people, and brought tremendous energy, insight and passion to their work.”

The intern being praised here is 3L College of Law student Vic Wiener. Building on the success of their clerkship at the National Youth Law Center in Washington, D.C., in 2018, Wiener headed back east this past summer for another experiential learning opportunity involving young people and the law.

Juvenile Law Center is the oldest child advocacy legal organization in the United States. It focuses principally on policy work around juvenile justice and the foster care system. While interning there, Wiener undertook a wide array of projects. “The first thing I did,” Wiener said, “was to prepare a memo for an amicus brief for a state supreme court on an issue around access to counsel. My supervisors liked the memo so well that they then invited me to draft the brief. That’s not something you typically learn in law school, and I had never written one before.”

Wiener’s internship also involved researching various states’ policies around juvenile transfer, which, they explained, “is the system whereby young people are transferred into the adult system to be tried and sentenced as adults. This is something we know is very unhealthy for young people.”

Indeed, the topic of juvenile transfer is something about which Wiener knows a great deal, as during second year they had independently researched and written a paper for the Tulsa Law Review on how race and trauma impact such transfer. “It was wonderful to take that research and then be able to apply it in a legal context that cares deeply about the issue.”

Law internship: focus and direction


“Vic helped us on a wide array of projects, ranging from an appellate brief on the importance of counsel for youth to a blog post highlighting young people’s perceptions of the justice system,” Lindell commented. “Vic’s brilliance, diligence and compassion were evident in all aspects of their work, and it was truly a pleasure to have them as one of our summer interns.”

As Wiener looks ahead to graduating next year and begins contemplating their professional future, they emphasize the immense benefit of having been able to spend 10 weeks working alongside the nation’s top experts in juvenile law. “I worked on my writing and my analysis this summer, and I grew my subject-matter knowledge of how legal issues are affecting young people. The internship was really beneficial in helping me clarify how I think about juvenile justice.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. In fact, at the end of the summer, I applied for a two-year post-graduate fellowship at Juvenile Law Center. They have agreed to host me, and together we are now going to seek funding, which would be an amazing start to my dream career.”

Are you a TU student interested in broadening your horizons and deepening your career-ready knowledge and skills through experiential learning? The best place to begin your search is with the helpful staff at the Center for Career Development and Professional Engagement. In the meantime, check out this story about a student who has interned in Mexico, Chile, Brazil and, most recently, Texas.