By: Zackary Kephart
NIAGARA UNIVERSITY, N.Y. – Adjunct Professor of Management and Leadership, Mitchell Alegre, has adopted a teaching style that just may be the way of the future.
Students who sign up for one of Alegre’s classes don’t buy textbooks, nor do they sit in a traditional classroom environment. Instead, students sit in a circle – to reflect a business meeting – and learn by working with local organizations.
“I used to teach in a typical classroom setting, but around nine years ago in my MGT 461 Classics and Leadership course, that all changed,” said Alegre.
“Early in the semester, I gave students an assignment to choose a topic they were passionate about and present it,” said Alegre. “I had two students present on education and why it needed to change. When they finished, I said, ‘I’ve heard enough.’ They looked shocked. I said, ‘I agree with you!’ So from there, I scrapped the syllabus and said, ‘Alright, so what are we going to do for the rest of the semester?'”
With the previous syllabus out the window, Alegre’s students’ presented the idea of project-based learning.
“Here, students implement the concepts and skills of what they learn and apply it to a real world problem,” said Alegre. “I think one of the critical things we need to help students with in college is ambiguity. Life is sloppy. Education from day one is structured, but then students leave and go out in the real world and experience something totally different. It’s an adjustment for many students. It’s real.”
When asked if any particular project stands out to him, Alegre just thinks for a second before smiling and saying, “a lot,” with a chuckle.
“Certain projects have won awards and community recognition,” said Alegre. “Some projects are focused on campus life too, so the administration has taken many of these ideas seriously and implemented them. Community clients we work with also talk to other organizations. All of a sudden then we have these organizations wanting to work with us. I find that taking a project-based approach is stressful for everyone. None of us know what will happen, but I’m continuously awed by the results. It seems like every semester nothing is going to get accomplished. Somehow though, it all comes together.”
This type of learning goes beyond the classroom in other ways too. According to Alegre, some students have even continued their involvement in these organizations that they chose beyond graduation. Ultimately, Alegre wouldn’t say he teaches. Instead, he facilitates learning communities.
“My hope is that students exit their comfort zones,” said Alegre. “It’s alright to make mistakes and trust those around us. If we play it safe, we only do what we know, and that doesn’t lead to learning.”
Alegre is currently teaching MGT 315 Leadership and Teamwork and he and his class are also working with Vice President for Mission Integration Rev. Aidan R. Rooney, C.M. on campus. He is also working on a Compassionate University project that fits in with the Compassionate Communities initiative that has been a focus for the Niagara County Coalition for Services to the Homeless.