CWU Empowers Students to Learn by Doing Through Use of High-Impact Practices

CWU Empowers Students to Learn by Doing Through Use of High-Impact Practices

Even if you’ve never heard the term high-impact practice—HIP for short—chances are you’ve encountered at least one of them at Central Washington University.

As Central leans into our new vision of being a model learning community of equity and belonging, there is a renewed emphasis on providing students with more practical, hands-on learning opportunities so they can develop the skills they need from the moment they enter the professional world.

While the CWU faculty may not always define their teaching methods as high-impact practices, many of these student success-focused initiatives are already underway in the classroom and the field.

Examples of HIPs include capstone courses and projects, first-year seminars or experiences, common intellectual experiences, internships, e-portfolios, and learning communities. But not all HIPs are part of academic curricula. Participating in living-learning communities, attending student events, volunteering, and even meeting with an advisor also count.

No matter how HIPs are defined, they have been proven to help students from all backgrounds develop the skills they need to succeed, while also providing a significant boost to their résumés. The well-documented success of HIPs at other higher ed institutions has put them front and center at Central over the past two years. Here’s a look at how they are taking shape in the departments across campus.


Bringing HIPs into Focus

Marketing Professor Sayantani Mukherjee is one CWU faculty member who has always used HIPs in her teaching, even before she knew them by that name.

She incorporated them partly out of necessity, since the subject matter of digital marketing lends itself to the kind of experiential learning associated with high-impact practices. Mukherjee, who is based at CWU-Lynnwood, has embedded them throughout the curriculum of the digital marketing minor, which has become one of the largest minors in the College of Business despite being launched only two years ago.

“The digital landscape is such that you cannot have content and theory by itself without having some form of high-impact practice in it,” she said. “For example, it’s just not enough to talk about TikTok in the abstract if you don’t play around with TikTok.”

High-Impact Practices

• Capstone Courses and Projects
• Collaborative Assignments and Projects
• Common Intellectual Experiences
• Diversity/Global Learning
• ePortfolios
• First-Year Seminars and Experiences
• Internships
• Learning Communities
• Service Learning, Community-Based Learning
• Undergraduate Research
• Writing-Intensive Courses

One of Mukherjee’s most successful HIP experiences was a small independent-study group that was invited to participate in a Google Challenge. The international technology conglomerate put up $10,000 and connected student teams with a nonprofit—in this case, a Reno-based organization that worked to make healthy food accessible to vulnerable groups.

The CWU student team created multiple advertising campaigns and 16 Google ads aimed at different audiences, and they were recognized by the company as a “top marketer.”

Kahlia Mafua (’22), the student team leader for the Google Challenge, said being involved in the project took her marketing knowledge to the next level.

“It was different from any sort of simulation that you go through in school, or any sort of academic reading,” Mafua said. “It’s you in the driver’s seat doing client relationship management, trying to get your cost per click down, revising your copy to make sure that it resonates with who you’re grabbing, and also targeting your audience. It really was game-changing.”

Mafua now works as a digital marketing coordinator for Columbia Hospitality in Seattle. She attributes that opportunity directly to her Google Challenge experience with Mukherjee.

“My technical understanding of Google Ad Words was what got me into my role now,” Mafua said. “Being able to speak on a technical level in a field that’s very tech-heavy was truly amazing.”


Hands-On Experiences

Associate Professor of Marketing Claudia Dumitrescu has long recognized the importance of HIPs to student success. As director of the growing CWU Agribusiness program, she understands that typical career paths for students draw on the types of skills HIPs provide—everything from deeper critical thinking to better communication.

Many of Dumitrescu’s class projects involve students working directly with local industry professionals, including Tree Top, Domex SuperFresh, and Loftus Labs. Students in her recent online marketing research course, for instance, worked with a fruit-grower in the Yakima Valley to examine consumer perceptions of different apple breeds. The student teams collected data, then presented a professional report on their findings to the company.

“It provided the students an opportunity to enhance their learning of current marketing issues in the agribusiness industry,” Dumitrescu said. “We were able to connect the marketing concepts to practice, and they realized that ‘Hey, yeah, we do need to make research-based strategic decisions.’”

HIPs have been making some serious headway in the College of Business, but they’re also catching on in other departments on campus.

In Geological Sciences, for instance, HIPs in the 200-level gateway course prepare students for upper-division courses. As part of collaborative assignments and mini-research projects, students collect data in the field and analyze online data sets while learning foundational scientific practices like recording observations in a field notebook.

Professor Anne Egger, who has a joint faculty appointment with the departments of Geological Sciences and Science and Mathematics Education, noted that HIPs are just as rewarding for faculty as they are for students.

“You start to see them take on the mindset of a scientist as they engage in a research project or see how something they’ve seen in a textbook looks in reality,” Egger said. “There’s an intellectual leap to make, but they have to make that in order to become a geoscientist.”


Creating Equitable Outcomes

HIPs benefit college students in myriad ways, but one outcome that may get overlooked is the role they play in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion.

CWU Provost Michelle DenBeste explained that diversity takes into account race and ethnicity, but it also means supporting the needs of first-generation students, non-traditional students, and others who historically have felt like they don’t belong at a university.

“High-impact practices done well can be a way to really reach those folks,” she said. “It gives them both a sense of belonging and the tools to realize all of their potential.”

Mukherjee pointed out that students from underrepresented groups make up a large share of Central’s student population (approximately 42% as of fall 2022). These students want to use their university experiences to gain equal footing with more privileged groups, and they have embraced the use of HIPs to further their education.

“I think if we intentionally embed HIPs in our curriculum, it could help the students really flourish as they graduate,” Mukherjee said.

Not only that, but HIPs themselves can be used as a way to increase students’ awareness and sensitivity to issues of equity and diversity. Mukherjee does this through the choice of nonprofits she and her students work with. Last winter, for instance, her students worked with a Seattle-based nonprofit that aims to build a diverse and inclusive community around chamber music.

“I think part of the experience of having a high-impact practice is that students become familiar with diversity and equity in various forms,” she said. “Having viewpoints exchanged and negotiating a shared dialogue with those viewpoints automatically becomes part of the class.”

For Eric Hougan, an associate professor in the School of Education, the impact of HIPs on diversity and equity can start even before a student arrives on campus.

He is involved with CWU’s groundbreaking Teacher Academies program, which partners with about a dozen school districts around the state to support and diversify the educator workforce by connecting with underrepresented populations in cities ranging from Renton and Puyallup on the west side to Grandview, Selah, and Kennewick east of the Cascades.

Through the Teacher Academies program, high school students take a dual-credit course that studies education through the lens of equity and social justice. Its service learning and community engagement components connect high-schoolers with elementary classrooms in their home communities. This work, combined with advising and mentoring, is designed to help students build their sense of belonging.

“One of the things we’re working on at CWU is to make sure that feeling of family is extended into their undergraduate experience as well, by developing the sort of ecosystem that they feel they’re part of, and they feel like they belong to,” Hougan said.


Scaling Up the Use of HIPs

One aspect about Central that attracted DenBeste when she interviewed several years ago was the widespread use of HIPs on campus. But, for the most part, she noticed faculty didn’t call them that, and there were no coordinated efforts to use HIPs intentionally.

She and her colleagues, including President Jim Wohlpart, have begun to recognize that HIPs create deep, résumé-friendly learning experiences while also increasing equity among students. Being more intentional about implementing these practices helps increase diversity on campus and in the communities CWU serves.

In an effort to apply HIPs more broadly at Central, the Office of the Provost applied for—and was accepted to—the 2022 Association of American Colleges & Universities Institute on High Impact Practices and Student Success.

Now DenBeste has a task force of faculty and staff developing a plan to put into practice what they learned about HIPs at the institute last summer. Over the past academic year, the task force has sought to create a university experience that will naturally incorporate five to seven HIPs throughout a student’s time at Central.

DenBeste and the task force are holding an institute this summer to get more faculty and staff involved in the effort to more deliberately utilize HIPs and accommodate more students. She believes integrating HIPs more robustly will allow Central to better serve our entire student population.

“There’s no one way to do high-impact practices,” DenBeste said. “But if you’re doing them consistently, students who feel like they belong at the institution are far more likely to succeed, and students who are connected with other students are a lot less likely to give up when the going gets tough. We need to build those things in for our students so that when it’s really hard, their impulse won’t be ‘This is not for me, I’m quitting.’”

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