Learning By Doing: How Davis College Promotes High Impact Learning 

Prescribed Burning Field In this high impact learning experience, students learn about prescribed burning in NRM 5323 class and get to do it themselves. Photo credit: Nathan Gill Ph.D

As a high school student, you have no idea what college has in store. When you go to Texas Tech University, the same thing can be said until you start your experience at Davis College. One of the main features that draw students to Texas Tech’s campus is the academics and what opportunities are offered to the students. High Impact Learning has become a growing trend among the different curricula offered.  

Cindy Akers, Ph.D. is the Vice Provost for administrative affairs at Texas Tech. One of her main duties is to advise students to help them become successful.  

“Our ultimate job is we want to get students into college, and then do whatever we can to make them successful,” Akers said. 

These experiences are the classes and programs that offer students hands-on tasks with real-world scenarios that have a high impact on their education. Within Texas Tech’s curriculum, there has been a growth of these higher-class learning experiences since its beginning. 

The quality of these programs reflects the innovation that the faculty and staff have worked hard to ensure students are better prepared for their future after college. These programs range widely from studying animals and their growth to creating media projects to help communicate to industries around the world. 

The surrounding community has a lot to do with the work done on Texas Tech’s campus. The people in the West Texas area are common stakeholders for the university. Unlike other universities in major cities, Texas Tech has a strong influence on Lubbock and other surrounding communities. They rely on work done on campus while Texas Tech relies on the community surrounding them for opportunities for students to work out and solve problems. 

Our ultimate job is we want to get students into college, and then do whatever we can to make them successful.

Dr. Cindy Akers P.h. D.

One facet of Texas Tech’s High Impact Learning is the research done on campus. Unlike traditional programs, students of all levels can develop and execute their research projects. The Center for Transformative Undergraduate Experiences (TrUE) has supported students with the ability to start and follow through with these projects. 

Looking Back 

On February 10, 1923, Texas state senate bill 103 was signed by Governor Pat M. Neff and Texas Tech was founded as Texas Technological College. It has been one of the leading technical universities in the state since its founding. In 1925, when the doors of the college were open, Texas Technological College became an academic hub for agriculture, engineering, liberal arts, and home economics.  

These programs were designed to give the people of West Texas skills and tools to help them achieve greater success in the fields offered at the college’s creation. Thanks to an article from the Texas State Historical Association written by Lawrence Graves, Governor Pat M. Neff wanted to establish Texas Tech to improve education, manufacturing skills, agricultural skills, democratic government skills, and elevate the ideals of West Texans.  

The university being created as a Technological college set the foundation of the curriculum for Texas Tech. Campus authorities believe that the agricultural college at Texas Tech was the first to implement High-Impact Learning on campus. In 1926, the Texas Tech campus added a new structure to aid the students at the university. The Dairy Barn and Silo were put on campus and encouraged students to bring dairy cows with them to college. In the early years of Texas Tech, students were able to keep cows in the Dairy Barn and sell the milk they produced as a way of paying tuition for schooling. This method of tuition payment only lasted until 1935. 

Due to the Dairy Barn and its original purpose, many authorities on campus regard this as the beginning of High Impact Learning. Students were able to use the acquired knowledge and use it in a practical setting on campus. They were able to use this as a way of learning the business techniques in the Agricultural and Dairy industries. Robert Cox, Ph.D. is the Interim Associate Dean for Academic & Student Programs for the Davis College of Agricultural Science and Natural Resources. 

“They’re marketing the milk and the dairy products and working as a group to make money for their tuition,” Cox said. 

This kind of intuitive learning continued and grew to be a part of Texas Tech’s culture. One program Davis College has been implementing for decades was the partnership with different companies and organizations to help their students. They have used these partnerships to help Davis College students work internships and gain real-world experiences. 

Davis College has always had a strong culture of working with the community and letting students have the opportunity to work alongside the community members. Many of the early courses and programs at Davis College were the first steps to what our courses and programs are like today.  


 The Department of Agricultural Education and Communications at Texas Tech has a rich history of implementing high-impact learning experiences in the classroom. The agricultural education student teaching program has been a formative experience for students in that major since [insert year student teacher program began]. Students pursuing a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education are placed at participating high school agricultural programs in the state and spend a semester engaged in teaching, observation, and learning the ropes of a high school ag program. This is helpful to their instruction because it lets them use what they learned in their classes in a practical academic setting outside of the university.  

The AGED block is a set of classes that only agricultural education teacher certification majors can take the Fall semester before they go student teach. They take courses on classroom management, courses on how to teach, Supervised Agricultural Experience, and what to do at stock shows.  

Bryce Hamlin is a student in the Agricultural Education Department in the Davis College. 

“Through this impactful time, I have learned so much and many other things that I want to implement into my classroom and culture,” said Hamlin. 

The department’s agricultural communications program also adopted a block course structure, modeled after the agricultural education program, in 2017.  The ACOM Block is a set of four courses – including magazine production, agricultural campaigns, advanced design, and converge in media – that provides real-world experiences and hands-on learning. Agricultural communications students take the ACOM Block during the spring semester of their senior year. 

Lindsay Kennedy, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of the practice of agricultural communications and is one of four professors that teach the Block courses. Kennedy teaches the magazine course that produces the Agriculturist magazine. She said providing these types of innovative course structures helps prepare students for the workforce following graduation. 

“The magazine is really meant to be an immersive learning experience,” Kennedy said. “Students write their own stories, interview sources, take photographs, design layouts, and sell advertising to produce the Agriculturist. They get to experience the process of bringing a real-world communications piece to life.” 

Cabree Mullins Working
Cabree Mullins, an agricultural communications major, views the Agriculturist website while working on her story for the magazine in the ACOM Block where students learn by doing. Photo credit: Kathryn Harris

In the Block, students learn to hone skills they have developed since their early courses in the agricultural communications program, including writing, design, web development, and campaign management. Kennedy said the Block also hopes to develop students’ professional skills related to problem-solving, teamwork, and project management.   

Lindsey Walker was a student of the 2022 ACOM Block cohort. She said that the ACOM Block taught her useful and relevant information that helped her to get her current job.  

“The ACOM block has taught me to use my critical thinking skills in the workplace and communicate and convey info that you have and delegate it to other people,” said Walker. 

Kennedy also employs high-impact learning experiences through another class she teaches in the agricultural communications program.  Her summer digital photography course takes place during the two-week intersession following the spring semester before summer courses start. She has structured this to be a hands-on field learning experience that places students outside photographing agricultural subjects, landscapes, and night photography as they learn the basics of running cameras and the principles of photography. A signature experience in the program is a week-long stay at a central New Mexico ranch where students photograph spring branding and western lifestyle subjects. 

Kennedy said the field-based format helps students more quickly grasp the concepts of photography. 

“They learn on-site rather than me teaching at them in the classroom and then them going through their assignments on their own,” Kennedy said. “We’re all doing that together. They learn from each other, too. So, there’s a lot of value in that.” 

Kourtney Gibson is a senior agricultural communications student in the Davis College. She took Kennedy’s summer intersession digital photography class. 

“The photography intersession class provided me with a learning experience I could not receive in the classroom,” Gibson said.  


Faculty in the Department of Agricultural Education and Communications have also found creative ways to provide high-impact learning experiences outside of the classroom.  Jason Headrick, Ph.D., an assistant professor of leadership and community development, created a program through funding provided by the Helen Jones Foundation called the Civic Leadership Academy. 

CLA aims to help students find opportunities and create projects that would change their local communities for the better while instilling change among communities to help for a better future. Headrick’s goal is to help students realize they can make a change and to give them the tools to make that change.       

“The idea behind Civic Leadership Academy is to help you understand how at any stage in life, you don’t have to be in your 50s or 60s before you start to make a change. You can do it right now in your 20s,” Headrick said. “People are going to go out into the world, and we want them to be prepared,” said Headrick. 

Headrick wants to show students how a community works, how to use the tools set out before them, and how to be a leader now so they can go off to do great things in the future. He wants students prepared to go out into the world to create meaningful growth in communities everywhere. 

Madilyn Miller is a sophomore in the Davis College studying Animal Science. She has found a new perspective on how she views her community back home and in Lubbock, at school due to the Civic Leadership Academy. 

“I look at things in my daily life or in those high impact learning experiences and find myself thinking how does this impact others in my community,” said Miller. 


Kennedy serves as the program director of the Matador Institute of Leadership Engagement (MILE), a three-semester leadership and professional development course for undergraduate students at Davis College. Students graduate from Texas Tech with a leadership certificate when they are a part of this program. 

The MILE Program is a competitive course, given that there are only 14 spots per cohort. Even with this small of a size, Kennedy tries to make sure that there is equal representation among the Davis College majors in the MILE Program. 

“MILE is really all about developing young, qualified leaders who have had a variety of experiences and exposure to the different issues affecting agriculture on a local state, regional, national level,” Kennedy explained. 

Students examine peanuts
Students in the MILE program examine peanuts grown by Mason Becker while touring South Plains Ag. Photo credit: Lindsay Kennedy Ph.D.

Students in the MILE program learn how policies on larger state or national levels affect local leadership. They learn how agriculture interacts with the economy of these areas to show why it is important. On top of this, they go through professional development training such as industry networking, dining etiquette, and media training.  

Within the Department of Natural Resources Management, courses implement high impact learning to drive home conservation concepts. Nathan Gill, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the department of natural resources management that teaches multiple courses focused on conservation, fire behavior, and management. His prescribed burning course helps students experience the importance and the process of prescribed burning while being out in the field rather than in the classroom.  

“Like they’re (students) just going to be memorizing facts without really being able to put it in context (in the classroom) … I take students out to burn, and they’re like, ‘Now it all makes sense,’” Gill said. 

Gill also serves as the director of the Bridge Adventure Program in partnership with Kennedy and other faculty from the Davis College. Bridge Adventure is an outdoor program designed to strengthen diversity and inclusion through experiential learning.  

Funded by a federal grant, Bridge Adventure uses outdoor activities and adventure excursions to help students build confidence, develop leadership skills, and encourage community among fellow students.  

Gill said he thinks all students should be able to be involved in hands-on, field-based learning that gives them new or improved skills that are beneficial to them. 

“I think across the board, it would just help to make things feel relevant, and also just be more enjoyable than sitting in a classroom listening to the lectures right,” said Gill. 

Texas Tech has become one of the most renowned research schools in the nation. The work done on campus has contributed to a lot of the world deals with.                     

One facet of Texas Tech’s High Impact Learning is the research done on campus. Unlike traditional programs, students of all levels can develop and execute their research projects. The Center for Transformative Undergraduate Experiences (TrUE) has supported students with the ability to start and follow through with these projects. 

TrUE has a program called the TrUE Scholars Program on campus. This program gives students out of high school the chance to explore the option Texas Tech has to offer from a High Impact Learning and research point of view. They are given the time to figure out their interests and how they can apply that to their studies. They then can go into a research program either in groups or with a professor if they found one already.  

This program is enticing to students and professors due to how it handles the financials. The professors and students do not need to pay for any of the research funding. This is taken care of with the TrUE Scholars Program, giving students the possibility to perform research without money being an issue.  

The TrUE Scholars Program has a lot of features that make it worth a student’s time. The students are paid hourly to do this work, so they have the time and availability. The program lasts until graduation, so students have the time to finish their studies. This program is designed to serve about 500 students per year.  

One part of this program is that it does not limit students to research. Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (URCA). URCA lets students do this work in their disciplines. An example of this is dance major students. Instead of doing a major study on dance, they can work on the choreography for a performance, since that’s what that scholarship would look like in that discipline.  

“We’re not limited to a particular discipline, either. It’s whatever that kind of looks like in your space,” said Levi Johnson, director of the Center for Transformative Undergraduate Experiences. 

Students in these programs are not just participants in the study. Some students have had great success in their academic careers. Students who have been a part of the program have been co-authors of peer-reviewed journal articles as undergraduate students.  

Looking Forward 

The future of High Impact Learning is heading in a good direction. Due to high competition among college bachelor’s graduates, High Impact Learning is key to performing against others for a job. Graduates who have experience with High Impact Learning have a greater chance of success in landing a job and performing better. 

The distinction between candidates who have had High Impact Learning experiences and those who haven’t helps to also show which schools offer a better-quality education. Texas Tech wants to make sure that students who graduate have the best education the university can offer. With this in mind, the university has taken steps to make sure all students have experience with High Impact Learning. 

Texas Tech’s administration has been looking at what changes can be made to improve the university as a whole. When they looked at all the possibilities, they looked at it with a perspective that puts people first. They wanted to see what they can do to put students and faculty first.

Administration at all levels decided that High Impact Learning was what they wanted to do. This is why Texas Tech’s Administration has decided to implement High Impact Learning across all of campus.  

Due to the Administration wanting more and stronger High Impact Learning Programs, many professors and other faculty have pushed hard to create more and more opportunities for students. Many of the roadblocks to starting more or growing these programs are in funding. 

To combat this issue, faculty members of Texas Tech have been working hard to apply for grants to pay for their endeavors. This is also a challenge in itself. Not every idea sounds like a good idea to others. The faculty has to work hard to try and convince the government to fund an idea. 

If everything starts to work out as planned by these faculty members, a change will happen. There will be a change happening with the Davis College students, the faculty, and the community surrounding and connected to Texas Tech.  

The culture of an elevated level of education runs strong on the Texas Tech campus. It has given students a strong education that distinguishes them after graduation. High Impact Learning has given the students in Davis College a strong advantage over the graduates of other universities after college and into their professional careers. 

The students who come out of these programs are more prepared and have more experience in their respective fields of study. With a higher level of education, graduates can take higher-paying or more important roles in their industries. This makes High Impact Learning a valuable resource for everyone in the university connected to it. 

The value of this education reflects the amount of hard work and effort Davis College students put into their studies since the beginning of the university. The pursuit of quality education is one that all students at Davis College obtain through their hard work and rigorous studies at Texas Tech. Davis College students have continued to put their full effort forward showing “from here, it’s possible.”