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KEY program expands learning, connects students with role models

Campus Life Aug 11, 2022
A group of people poses in front of a historic building
A group of people poses in front of a historic building

KOKOMO, Ind. — What do the United States’ premier particle physics lab, Chicago’s Hull House, the Benton County windfarm, and the Indiana State House have in common?

All of these, and more, are possible destinations for KEY experiential learning programs planned this year at Indiana University Kokomo.

Faculty members weave these hands-on experiences into their curriculum, bringing classroom knowledge to life, according to Christina Downey, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs and student success.

“When learning is made vivid and relevant to students, they learn better,” she said. “It’s one thing for me to give an excellent lecture about a topic in the classroom. It’s totally another to take them to the zoo and show them that walruses are trained using concepts from psychology.”

Travel has been a hallmark of the Kokomo Experience and You (KEY) program since it was founded in 2016, with the goal of providing students with real-world experiences, connecting them with people, and having a travel experience within their major. Since that time, more than 1,000 students have participated in study-related trips to places including Nashville’s fast-growing business community, the biodiversity of the Indiana Dunes National Park, the Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge, and a behind-the-scenes private security tour of a Pacers game at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

In addition to seeing live examples of what they are learning, experiential learning also connects students with people working in career fields that might interest them.

“I believe in the power of role models,” Downey said. “Students are often surprised at the age, the backgrounds, and the training of the people they see doing these things, because they look a lot like them. If a student is at the zoo with a dolphin trainer who says they were a psychology major, our student looks at them and says, ‘If you can do it, I can do it.’”

Just a few of the trips available this year include a sociology trip to Chicago, with stops at the Jane Addams Hull House, the Little Italy Public Library, and the National Public Housing Museum, to learn about community development, social justice, and policy reform; the Colts business forum, a Model UN simulation at IU Southeast, a School of Sciences trip to Fermilab, America’s particle physics and accelerator lab in Illinois; and a tour of the Benton County Wind Farm in Fowler, one of the largest wind farms in the country.

While some excursions are for those in specific classes, others are open to all students — and 95 percent of them are free.

“From the beginning of designing KEY, we were determined that socioeconomic status was not going to rule anyone out of having amazing learning experiences,” said Downey. “For those trips that we do ask students to contribute, we try to limit that cost as much as possible and do what we can to find resources if a student says he can’t afford it. We’re not going to put that barrier in front of them.”

For more information about the KEY program, and to learn more about upcoming trips, go to

Education is KEY at Indiana University Kokomo.

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More pictures from the opening reception here.
IU Kokomo