Beginning in 1883, students taking courses in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) engaged in hands-on activities. The chemistry department led the way with experiments and observations. Soon, geology, botany, zoology, and other natural science disciplines followed suit. Experiential Learning in the sciences took on increased importance during the 1950s, when nuclear weapons, technological advances, and the Cold War threatened U.S. national security. Students applied quantitative reasoning, data analysis, and more through observations and group projects, pushed in part by the growing need for technological development and expertise.
“When you’re doing Experiential Learning you got students who are actually going out and applying that theory, testing it, seeing what works,”
Dr. Danny Anderson, Trinity University President
In 1885, Trinity University founded its geology program. A core aspect of the geology curriculum at that time was the “Exploration Party,” a summer program where three Trinity students joined one faculty member on a trip to explore the geology of the American Southwest. This project provided opportunities for hands-on discovery and observation of natural “fauna, flora, and mineral resources” and gave students field experience. This program prepared students for their careers as geologists, but also brought in new specimens to the University lab for analysis.
1923 Laboratory and Field Methods and Management
By the early 1920s, the natural science departments began offering more experiential classes to their majors. Introduced in 1923, the Laboratory and Field Methods and Management class allowed students to become laboratory assistants for their biology teachers. The course focused on activities not usually performed in class, such as killing, fixing, sectioning, staining, and preserving materials, experimenting on samples, and using microscopes. Students in this class received an introduction to the activities of professional biologists.
“I never thought I wanted to do astrophysics research, but I experienced it and realized that my true passion was design & engineering.”
Brian Guerreo, Class of 2020 Engineering major
In 1958 Marrs McLean donated $500,000 for the construction of a new science building at Trinity. This donation amounted to a third of Trinity’s existing scientific education budget. Also included in these plans were $1,500,000 to expand Trinity’s natural science programs, which had previously lacked adequate funding. The new facilities provided by this donation allowed for increased access to scientific Experiential Learning with new labs and more modern classrooms.