Experiential Learning Experiences of Criminal Justice and Sociology Students


Sociology and criminal justice majors are preparing for employment in social service and/or criminal justice agencies. Addressing issues of social inequality and social justice will be part of their daily work. Preparing students for working with people impacted by social problems such as poverty, victimization, and crime requires grounding the students in empirical research and theoretical foundations of the field, but also the opportunity to gain practical work experience prior to graduation. The purpose of our research is to explore the pathways taken by undergraduate sociology and criminal justice majors to engage in experiential learning coursework. For our research, experiential learning will be generally defined as learning from experience or learning by doing. While experiential learning may take place in a variety of traditional classroom settings, we are looking particularly at four types of classes: service learning, study abroad, internship, or the Wrongful Convictions project. A convenience sample of students who have completed one or more of these classes was drawn to engage students in focus group or individual interview conversations about their coursework choices and experiences. The findings of our research may be used to address curriculum and course offerings to better meet the needs of students and the discipline as well as contribute to the larger scholarly literature on experiential service learning.


Experiential Learning, Community Engagement, Social Justice


2019 Special Focus: "Learning to Make a Social Difference"


Paper Presentation in a Themed Session


  • Dr. Zoann Snyder
    • Associate Professor and Criminal Justice Program Director, Sociology, Western Michigan University
    • My teaching is primarily undergraduate level courses for sociology and criminal justice majors. I instruct the capstone courses for both majors and focus on engaging the students in original research and professional writing. I have used experiential learning as components of my courses for over a decade. I frequently use service learning projects to help the students engage with the community and learn more about the subject matter we are discussing in the classroom. I developed and teach a section of the criminal justice capstone course with a study abroad component in the Netherlands. I also direct the student interns who are working with public and private not-for-profit agencies in the criminal justice and social services arenas.
  • Ashley Chlebek
    • M.A. Student, Western Michigan University, United States United States