Experiential Learning

Experiential learning is the process of transforming real-life experiences into knowledge. Experiential learning helps students to learn through their in-depth exposure to and work on real-world situations in real-world settings under the guidance of a professional in their field. Students apply the skills and knowledge they are learning in the classroom to their experiential learning situation. What they learn in that situation can then be brought back to the classroom through meaningful conversations, concrete examples, and critical reflection.

The department sees experiential learning opportunities as invaluable for our majors. They foster student engagement with the wider community outside of Butler, they provide an applied basis for learning, and they expose students to multicultural and diverse social contexts. Through such experiences, students are able to further develop and refine the skills they are learning in their major and create the foundation for success after graduation.

Majors in the Sociology and Criminology department are required to complete an internship or service-learning course as well as the senior research seminar capstone project. Students interested in pursuing graduate school, research-oriented careers, or just learning more about a sociological/criminological topic and the research process can choose to collaborate with a faculty member on a research project through a directed research experience.

Internships provide students with the opportunity to move between the academic setting of the classroom and the applied setting of an agency, organization or business. The internship provides the student with meaningful opportunities, under the supervision of a representative of the agency, to assist the agency in its mission.

Internships in Sociology, Sociology/Social Work and Criminology are designed to extend students’ learning opportunities beyond the traditional classroom setting. The primary goal is for students to gain hands-on experience in professional work environments related to their academic and career interests. Internships in criminal justice, human services, businesses and community contexts also provide students with practical experience and career and networking opportunities. Internships are often a key step in becoming familiar with job requirements and obtaining a job upon graduation.

Our internship experience is structured to benefit both the student intern as well as the sponsoring organization. The Department of Sociology and Criminology has established the following evaluation criteria for internship students and their evaluators:

The internship needs to provide the student with a broad overview of the organization. In addition, the student should gain a clear understanding of what a particular bachelor degree career field or occupation entails. The student should have the opportunity to engage in projects and activities at a professional level. The focus of the internship is for the student to learn about the organization and develop new skills and knowledge.

An internship should provide the student with hands-on experience and a good sense of what an actual job in the organization will be like. The relationship between the internship experience and the knowledge and skills that the student has gained through their major course is emphasized. The student brings a set of skills and a knowledge base to the internship experience that allows them to help the organization meet its goals as they engage in various activities at the internship site. Through the internship experience, the student also has an opportunity to refine and further develop their skills and to deepen their understanding of the concepts and theories they are learning in the classroom.

It is important that student interns be able to observe professionals in their particular field to grasp what the occupation will really be like. We encourage interns to participate in staff meetings and to attend presentations and meetings with clients when appropriate. Additionally, interns should have the ability to talk to and interact with professionals at the internship site about their respective jobs and career paths.

The students should leave the internship with a new set of skills or improvements in their current skill set. We encourage the student to concentrate on the following areas:

  • Research skills
  • Writing skills
  • Technical skills appropriate to the field
  • Presentation skills

Butler students are encouraged to identify internships that are related to their career interests and goals and to participate in experiences that will expand their knowledge base and expose them to diversity and new ways of thinking. Butler sociology and criminology students have completed internships in a wide variety of organizations, agencies, and businesses, including:

  • Indiana Department of Homeland Security
  • Pendleton Juvenile Correctional Facility
  • Marion County Prosecutor’s Office
  • Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic
  • The Children’s Bureau
  • Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (various divisions)
  • Department of Child Services
  • Safe Families for Children
  • Exodus Refugee Immigration, Inc.
  • The Julian Center
  • Salvation Army

View a more complete list of recent internship sites.

Students in the Department of Sociology and Criminology are required to complete either a three-credit-hour internship (SO484) or a service-learning course.  We also offer a six-credit-hour internship (SO485) for interested students (only three credit hours will count toward the major requirements).  Students must complete an internship that is related to their specific major (sociology, sociology/social work or criminology) and all internship sites must be approved by the department prior to enrollment. Student performance is evaluated both by a faculty member (academic requirements) and by the on-site supervisor (internship site/job requirements).

Specific Requirements Include:

  • Complete information forms and contract along with developing specific goals and objectives prior to beginning the internship, including all signatures. Students develop their goals and objectives in consultation with both their on-site and faculty supervisor.
  • Complete 160 hours (or 280 for SO485) in the field at the internship site.
  • Keep a work journal of experiences and observations while doing the internship (a sort of work ethnography) and share biweekly with the designated faculty internship supervisor.  Ongoing reflection is required and students are encouraged to examine their journal for common themes that emerge and for connections to what they have learned through their major courses.
  • Attend meetings on campus with the designated faculty internship supervisor biweekly.
  • After completion of hours in field, turn in an internship portfolio which includes: the work journal and reflections; an evaluation of the achievement of goals and the tasks and activities the student engaged in to meet these goals; an overview of the internship organization and the student’s role in this organization; an academic paper in which they utilize the academic literature and what they have learned in their major to analyze and shed light on an issue or experience related to their internship; an evaluation by their site supervisor and a self-evaluation; and supporting documents.

For more information about the specific requirements for an internship, please pick up a copy of the internship packet from the Sociology and Criminology Office (JH375-B) and meet with your advisor.

Students are responsible for working, in consultation with their advisor, on finding an appropriate internship site, applying for the internship, and identifying a full-time faculty member to serve as their faculty supervisor.

There are several resources available for identifying possible internship sites:

  • The department maintains a list of internship sites that are used on a continuous basis by our majors.
  • Utilize the resources maintained by Butler’s office of Internships and Career Services.
  • Consider participating in Butler’s Washington, DC Internship Program.
  • The department frequently posts and emails notifications to students of new internship opportunities.
  • Complete your own internship search for local, state, national and international internship opportunities. Many government agencies offer internship opportunities. Internship and Career services can help you with your search.

Students in the Department of Sociology and Criminology are required to complete either a three-credit-hour internship (SO484) or a service learning course. Service learning courses combine academic studies with volunteer work or service projects related to a class topic. Service learning is an excellent way to introduce students to sociological concepts, ideas, theories and the sociological imagination, and to give students an opportunity to apply these important sociological themes to real-life situations.

Service learning courses are beneficial to both the student and the community. Research has reported many benefits of service learning courses for the student, including improved grades and learning, increased civic engagement, enhanced job skills and greater appreciation for diversity. Many community-based organizations that students will work with in their service learning courses include service work with disadvantaged groups and service work focused on the amelioration of social problems. Sociology, as a discipline, is very well situated to provide knowledge, and the conceptual and theoretical tools for understanding social problems and the experiences of disadvantaged groups of people.

There are several student learning outcomes of service learning courses as stated by Butler’s Center for Citizenship and Community. They are:

  1. To have an active learning experience that integrates classroom knowledge with activities in the Indianapolis community.
  2. To use an experience in Indianapolis to further the individual student’s understanding of the nature of community and the relationship between community and his or her self.
  3. To further students’ commitment to service and ongoing involvement as community actors.

Service learning courses that have been offered in the Sociology and Criminology Department include:

  • Gender, Race, and Crime. In this course, students worked as mentors for individuals who had recently been released from prison. Students also sat in on meetings to learn about the common issues that former prisoners face in their daily lives such as drug addiction, issues finding jobs and housing, etc.
  • Latin American Societies. In this course, students worked through various agencies to help Latin American Immigrants with translation needs, tutoring, and helping to fill out forms and letters.
  • AIDS and Society.  In this course, students provided service at a center in Indianapolis that provides resources for individuals who are HIV positive or who have AIDS. Students worked directly with persons who have HIV or AIDS and/or their family members. The ultimate goal of the center is to empower those with HIV or AIDS and to lead the fight for the prevention of HIV.
  • Urban Community. In this course students are exposed to urban issues through field trips, speakers and structured opportunities involving local government agencies, neighborhoods and community centers.

All Butler students entering in fall 2010 or later are required to take a course that involves active engagement in the Indianapolis community. These courses are referred to as the Indianapolis Community Requirement (ICR). While courses that satisfy this requirement are found throughout the curriculum, service learning courses in the Department of Sociology and Criminology will also satisfy this requirement. Therefore, enrolling in a service learning course offered by the Department of Sociology and Criminology satisfies two requirements at once (a departmental requirement as well as a university core requirement).

Directed research is an opportunity for students to get involved with research under the direct supervision of a faculty member in the sociology and criminology department. Students assist a faculty member on a research project. Activities may include library research, data collection, data entry, data analysis, and manuscript preparation.

Through this experience students will learn valuable research and problem-solving skills and have a chance to apply the sociological theories and concepts they are learning about in their courses. Collaborative research can also lead to student presentations at academic conferences and co-authored research publications. This experience is particularly valuable for students interested in pursuing a graduate degree in sociology, criminology or a related field or research-oriented careers after graduation.

Professor Colburn had students participate in his applied research project, Assessing Community Progress on the Blueprint to End Homelessness, which examined how successful the Indianapolis community has been over the past decade in eliminating homelessness. The students conducted in-depth interviews with 14 homeless people about their experiences to identify the strengths and gaps in the local safety net.

Professor Cline had a student help her collect and analyze data from women who had recently been pregnant for two projects involving weight gain during pregnancy and postpartum issues. Professor Cline also had a student analyze secondary data and prepare a manuscript.  Another student helped Dr. cline collect and analyze data from mothers to examine if time spent on parenting message boards influenced how these women felt as mothers and their parenting self-efficacy.

Professor Menendez and Professor Novak had students conduct in-depth interviews with immigrants in Indianapolis concerning their experiences with prejudice and discrimination.

Professor Novak had students help her design and administer a survey to incoming Butler freshmen about their perceptions of alcohol and college life and conduct an evaluation of Butler’s Red Cup alcohol education program.

Number of Siblings and Perceived Social Support from Parents in an Adult Sample—Baylea Jackson. Paper presented at the Midwest Sociological Society, March 2011.

Pregnancy Weight and Body Image: How Women Deal with Significant Changes in Their Bodies during Pregnancy and Post-Pregnancy—Jessica Decker. Paper presented at the Midwest Sociological Society, March 2010.

Does Weight Gain during Pregnancy Influence Postpartum Depression?—Jessica Decker. Paper presented at Midwest Sociological Society, March 2010. Health Psychology, 2012.

Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Butler University’s Red Cup Culture Program—Stephanie Lander. Paper accepted for presentation at the Midwest Sociological Society, March 2012.

The Effect of Preconceived Expectations of Alcohol Use and College Life on Freshmen’s Drinking Behaviors—Trisha Wilcox and Katherine B. Novak. Presentation at the Midwest Sociological Society, March 2012.

All seniors are required to participate in a capstone experience in the form of a senior research seminar in which they undertake and complete an independent empirical research project that demonstrates their mastery of sociology or criminology. In this two-course sequence, students work independently on a research topic of interest to them under the guidance of a faculty member. Students will take a two-credit-hour course (SO486) in the fall of their senior year and a one-credit-hour course (SO487) in the spring of their senior year. Students present their findings at either the Undergraduate Research Conference (URC) which is held on Butler’s campus every spring or at a regional or national sociology or criminology professional conference.

Unlike other courses in the major which attempt to introduce students to a specific topic, subject or skill (e.g., Crime and Delinquency, Urban Sociology, Social Theory, or Research Methods), this course is instead organized around students making use of the skills and knowledge they have acquired in their other courses to complete an independent research project. In this respect, the focus of this course is on each individual student applying what they have learned to demonstrate mastery of the sociological perspective in the working out and completion of a research project that each student has formulated and developed.

The goals of this experience are for students:

  • To demonstrate their mastery of the sociological perspective-theories, issues, concepts, research methods – through the formulation and completion of an original research project.
  • To further develop a reflective, critical perspective on contemporary society through conducting independent sociological research on a significant and relevant social issue or concern.
  • To further develop and refine the necessary analytical and research skills for success in advanced graduate study and to meet career demands after graduation.

Students involved in the honors program or interested in completing a departmental honors thesis may do so in place of the senior research seminar requirement. The completion of an honors thesis requires the submission of a proposal to the LAS honors board, completion of an honors thesis, and presentation of the results at the Undergraduate Research Conference or a regional or national sociology (or criminology) professional meeting. Please see the website of the Butler Honors Program for more information about this option.

  • The Implementation of Restorative Justice in South Africa: Conflicts of Parks and People, A Case Study
  • Moral Panics, College Students, and the Internalization of Methamphetamine Stereotypes
  • The Undefined Middle: Exploring the Role of the Representative in the Modern Teachers Union Structure
  • The Conceptualization of Human Trafficking in the Media: A Content Analysis of United States Newspapers
  • The Effect of Place of Residence and Social Integration on Suicidal Ideation of College Students
  • Members of Fraternities who Abstain from Drinking and Their Perceptions of Their Fraternity Brothers
  • An Exploration of Gender and Violent Offenders: A Look at College Students’ View of Male and Female Serial Killers
  • Cultural Definitions of Health Care: A Case Study of Burmese Refugees in Indianapolis
  • Being an International Student: The Experience from Their Own Perspective
  • Urban and Rural Public Opinion as Correlates of Indiana State Criminal Lawmaking: Whose Views Matter? 
  • A Qualitative Study of the Role of Churches in One Indianapolis Neighborhood: How do Churches View Urban Renewal?
  • Bursting the “Butler Bubble:” Students Perceptions of Campus Safety Issues.  
  • Learning about Reverse Culture Shock Among Butler Study Abroad Students
  • Incarceration, Stigma and Prisoner Reentry into Society
  • College Students’ Perceptions of Pornography Users: Are Views Affected by the Sex of the User? 

More student project titles (and abstracts) can be found in the program archive for the Undergraduate Research Conference.

Outstanding students may participate in the Butler University Honors Program, which culminates in an Honors Thesis. The Honors Thesis allows students to work with a faculty advisor on an independent research project of interest to the student. University honors as well as departmental honors are available. Please consult the honors website or a member of the Sociology and Criminology department for more information about this exciting program.

The Butler Summer Institute allows students to work closely with a faculty mentor on a research project of interest from mid-May to mid-July. Students work and live alongside other students who are working on research projects. They are given a $2,500 stipend, a housing allowance, and free admission to cultural events that take place on campus during the summer that they participate. Visit the Summer Institute website for more information.