Students in the Project Design and Analysis program at University of North Texas at Frisco have the unique opportunity to work with local business leaders to solve real industry problems and gain valuable experience through project-based learning.

Kevin Sanders, Director of Project-Based Learning, explains the principles of project-based learning, its practical applications at the university and how this approach better equips students for their future careers.

Can you give a basic definition of project-based learning?

Sanders: Project-based learning is a concept in which we try to build a curriculum around a centralized project throughout the course of the semester. At UNT at Frisco, we build that project around an industry partner. We identify an industry problem and we work to solve that problem throughout the course of the semester.

How do you think that prepares students for what they're going to do after college?

Sanders: I think it really heightens the stakes because they're not working with a simulation or theoretical problem. They're working with something that somebody from an industry has actually identified as something that they need help with.

One of the benefits of project-based learning is that it does increase the degree of authorship and ownership that a student has over their work. Our students are getting a chance to see what works and what doesn't work because they're getting feedback in real time. Therefore, when our students are going to work full time and doing interviews after they graduate, they have a little bit of a better grasp of what works and how to take those things from a classroom and actually apply them to the real world.

Can you give some background on the project-based learning program at UNT Frisco?

Sanders: We are in year five of our Project Design and Analysis program. That was the original program that kind of launched project-based learning at our campus.

Frisco is around so much industry. We wanted to be innovative and be kind of disruptive in what we were doing with education. It doesn't make sense to have all these companies here and not work with them or utilize them. In many ways, you'll see a lot of the programs that we do really have an industry emphasis without losing the integrity of what an academic program should be.

Would a student have a specific major within the Project Design and Analysis program?

Sanders: Instead of just teaching a certain set of skills so students can go do this one specific trade, we're giving students a wide range of skills and then allowing them to go out to the open marketplace and say, ‘How do I want to use these skills to make my mark on the industry?’

For Gen Z students, the idea of not being restricted and having the freedom to kind of choose your own destiny and plot your own course is really, really appealing.

What does project-based learning look like in the classroom? Can you give some examples of projects you might assign?

Sanders: Right now, we have a group of students working with a nonprofit company called Serve Denton as they build a Resilience Hub. Last semester, our students canvassed the community and did base-level research. This semester, our students are exploring what the community might need and what might be the best use for that space. They're applying some of their awesome project management skills and utilizing their design-thinking backgrounds.

Have you gotten any positive feedback from students who have graduated from the program?

Sanders: We have three students who are alums of our program who went and worked at a company in the area, and they've actually come back now and they're talking about getting some of our current students internships with that company as well.

I think it speaks to not only the student experience but also the health of our program, that we're producing quality professionals who want to come back and want to be involved.

Is there anything else you want to share about the program?

Sanders: I think the project-based learning programs at UNT Frisco are probably some of the best kept secrets. A lot of people don't know that they're out there. Our campuses will as always open for visitors and people to come by and see us. Students can reach out to our campus and we will set up a time for them to come visit and see what's going on.

To schedule a tour of UNT Frisco and discover more about project-based learning, click here.

The above story was produced by Multi-Platform Journalist Mary Katherine Shapiro with Community Impact's Storytelling team with information solely provided by the local business as part of their "sponsored content" purchase through our advertising team.