Students and faculty attend association for Experiential Education International Conference

12 students and two faculty in the Dr. Jo Watts Williams School of Education attended the 50th Annual Association for Experiential Education (AEE) International Conference in Black Mountain, North Carolina in November.

Due to the generous support of the Dr. Jo Watts Williams School of Education, 12 students accompanied by Evan Small, assistant director of campus recreation and wellness for experiential learning and outdoor adventures and instructor in wellness, and Carol Smith, professor of education, were able to attend the Association for Experiential Education (AEE) International Conference in Black Mountain, North Carolina. AEE is the governing body for experiential educators from across the world and over 800 attendees participated in the 50th annual international conference this year.

Throughout the conference, students had the opportunity to attend educational sessions, learn hands-on skills and network with leaders in the field. Students also attended an employment connection fair to learn about the variety of opportunities within experiential education. As a result of their engagement, several students received job offers.

Smith presented a poster titled, “The Impact of Adventure Programs on Mental Health of University Students,” and Small, Frannie Varker and Deena Elrefai ’21 presented a session titled, “Me, You, Us: The Nexus of Public Health and Experiential Education.”

“The AEE conference was one of the most surprisingly influential experiences I never expected to have. The community of people working in experiential education are some of the most down-to-earth, welcoming, smart and creative people I have ever interacted with which is not surprising considering the work we do,” Lucy Driskill ’25 said. “Other than the workshops, some of my favorite parts of AEE revolved around the individual conversations I had with people throughout the conference. I had quite a few people tell me to pursue this field because I’m passionate about it, not to spend my life doing something I feel like society has told me to do.”

Jenna Sudol ’23 said she found AEE to be a valuable experience because she was able to go to workshops that combined two of her biggest interests — the outdoors and psychology. “I was able to talk to people from around the world and learn a lot about wilderness therapy. I learned valuable reflection skills and different ways to teach,” Sudol said.

The Association for Experiential Education (AEE) is a nonprofit international professional membership organization officially incorporated in 1977 but with roots back to 1972. AEE is governed by a board of directors who are elected by the association’s members. The board of directors establishes AEE’s mission, goals and ends, and hires an executive director to implement them.

The AEE community is composed of experiential educators, practitioners, inquirers, researchers and students with the shared goal of elevating the field of experiential education. Together, they enrich the experiential education community through regional and annual conferences, defining professional standards, providing accreditation to organizations, and presenting the latest news and research through AEE newsletters, publications and the Journal of Experiential Education. AEE provides a variety of networking and professional development opportunities.