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Students in a martial arts class at the UC Davis Experimental College do some stretching and breathing exercises before their workout begins. Jean Mikael Do/Courtesy photo

Local News

Experimental College: Davis’ best-kept secret

By From page A1 | November 26, 2013

By Crystal Atamian

Where can you find a facility that provides low-cost classes to the entire community with top-notch instructors?

The UC Davis Experimental College offers courses that range from dog training to dance and martial arts to money management. As one of only two prominent experimental colleges on the West Coast, the EC provides an unusual experience accessible to all members of the community.

“The eCollege embraces the idea that education in its most profound sense is personal growth,” says Davis resident Jennifer McCabe. “I think that the eCollege is really one of Davis’ best-kept secrets.”

Adds Celia Chang, a clinical professor of neurology at the UC Davis Medical Center, “I wish I had found the eCollege sooner.”

Hannah Moore, the Experimental College’s office manager, agrees: “It’s a valuable place for people to share and to learn. To give a space to things you might not normally have (in the community).”

In spite of this enthusiasm, the value of the EC in a university town can be easily overlooked.

“The knowledge of what we provide has faded into the background. … We have not tapped or attracted broader audiences to use our valuable resources,” says EC director Chriselle Vinson.

One of the hallmarks of the Experimental College is its instructors. There are professionals, like award-winning pet columnist and author Sophia Yin, who graduated from the UCD School of Veterinary Medicine and has a master’s degree in animal behavior.

Mike Cagley, “DJ Destiny,” considered one of the premiere video DJs in the world, has taught the “Groove University” course at the eCollege for 13 years. Cagley became the first video DJ in the NBA when he was hired as the audio/video DJ for the Sacramento Kings, and he just returned from a two-week tour in the United Kingdom with the video DJ from the Black Eyed Peas.

In addition to its long list of professionals, the Experimental College also provides a venue where community members can offer a course of interest in areas where they have some expertise.

“The EC serves both those who are seeking instructors with professional qualifications and those who are looking for a very informal environment, learning from peers with a passion for their subject,” says Rick Schubert, who has been teaching the Korean martial art of hapkido there for 20 years.

Chris Pike, owner of Pilates for Bodies, got his start at the Experimental College.

“I appreciated very much the opportunity the EC gave me,” Pike says. “The EC gave me a chance to try something that no other organization would have given me.”

Another valuable quality of the EC is the mix of undergraduates, graduate students and community members interacting in the same setting.

“There is an opportunity to network, meet individuals you wouldn’t necessarily be acquainted with and realize that the love and interest for a subject matter is what brings everyone enrolled in the class together,” says Vinson, whose vision for the EC includes promoting its benefits within the Davis community.

“As you get out into the workforce, your circle of people gets smaller and smaller. It’s nice to interact with people you might not come across in your daily life,” adds Chang, who just received her black belt in hapkido. “The people I meet at the EC, we’re all equals because we’re members of the same class.”

Adds Schubert, an award-winning professor of philosophy at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento, “It’s beneficial for UC Davis students to be in classes with the broader community. It allows students access to informal mentorship relations they might not otherwise experience and provides them with the opportunity for networking that is crucial for employment success.”

McCabe, who has been taking EC classes for 17 years, is living proof of that opportunity:  “It was the UC faculty, staff and community members in my EC classes that then helped connect me with opportunities for employment.”

In these tough economic times, perhaps the biggest benefit of the Experimental College is its low course costs.

Schubert points out that, “because the EC operates under the umbrella of the university, it is able to offer instruction at a fraction of what you would pay elsewhere.”

Prices depend on the course offered. The member price for “3-Ball Juggling for Beginners” is $30 while “Family FIDO Dog Training” is $180 and “Arabic for Beginners” is $75. The EC also offers a large variety of dance, yoga and music classes for reasonable prices. Courses are taught by the academic quarter. An eCollege membership costs $25 for students and $35 for nonstudents.

“We need resources like the Experimental College because it provides an outlet to experiment with prospective skills and ideas,” Vinson says. “Instructors and students have a space to share and learn skills that aren’t usually offered through standard education.”

Cagley argues that the EC is both essential and underutilized: “It’s strength is that it exists. But to continue, it needs the support from the student(s) and the broader community. I think it needs to be emphasized that programs like the EC simply don’t exist at most universities. It really is a beautiful thing.”

More information and course registration can be found at ecollege.ucdavis.edu. The Experimental College office is in 260 South Silo on the UCD campus.

— Crystal Atamian is a UC Davis graduate and freelance journalist. She taught composition and expository writing for five years at the University of Nevada, Reno.

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