Learning by Doing

February 26, 2019

When a crisis hits, first responders must be prepared at a moment’s notice with the best tools and resources. Thanks to support from local and state agencies, Liberty University is able to stage large-scale simulations that provide realistic scenarios where students can test their skills and interact with professionals.

Last fall, students from the School of Aeronautics and the School of Nursing rushed to a simulated crash scene at Lynchburg Regional Airport. In the scenario, a small prop plane had crashed into a crowd of people attending an airshow. Students played the roles of airport representatives, first responders, Red Cross volunteers, and victims. The simulation was part of the Aviation 409: Safety Management Systems class and the Community Health and Crisis Nursing classes.

“It’s a really good experience for our students,” said Andrew Walton, Liberty Aeronautics’ director of safety. “It’s a way for them to take what they learned in the classroom and apply it to a real-life situation.”

Walton said it’s also a chance for students to adapt to changes in a fluid situation like a crash.

“Adapting is always part of the drill,” he said. “Sometimes things don’t go according to plan, but that’s why it’s important for our students to be prepared to respond in a dynamic environment and be prepared if something goes wrong.”

“It’s a real-life experience in a controlled environment,” added Dr. Dana Woody, associate professor of nursing. “It’s a defining moment where students get to see where they’re retaining the information because this is what they’re going to have to do as professionals.”

Simulated Bioterrorist Attack

Every year, nursing students also have the chance to join students and faculty from Liberty’s forensic science, public health, criminal justice, and biomedical sciences programs in a simulated bioterrorist attack on campus. The event allows students to interact directly with representatives from the Virginia Department of Health, the Virginia State Police, the Lynchburg Fire Department, the Liberty University Police Department, and U.S. Army National Guard units. Students practice responding to an attack, finding radiation hotspots, studying the spread of deadly viruses and biological agents (such as anthrax and Ebola), and treating victims. They also learn how to assist in decontamination.

Another annual simulation exercise allows Liberty’s criminal justice and forensic science students a chance to work with the Virginia State Police and FBI in processing evidence from crime scenes. Scenarios range from bombings to stabbings, shootings, and other causes of death. Medical grade, deceased pigs are used to show how bodies decay over time. Through these exercises, students can grasp what they will be expected to do during any type of criminal investigation.

Practical Training

To supplement a strong classroom foundation, Liberty University understands that students across all disciplines need hands-on, experiential learning so they can stand out in their future careers.

School of Engineering students are gaining research and design experience at Liberty’s Center for Engineering Research & Education. Under the direction of Dr. Hector Medina, students have built a gasoline-powered Baja off-road vehicle in preparation for national competition later this spring and are currently designing an electric race car, thanks to support from Hendrick Motorsports. The projects give students experience in every stage of the process — from drafting and computer modeling to electrical and mechanical engineering.

Liberty’s purchase of historic properties in the nearby community of New London (including the Bedford Alum Springs Hotel and Mead’s Tavern) provides students with opportunities to get hands-on with history in a pre-Revolution community that served as a popular trade route for settlers.

Each semester, digital media students gain hands-on experience in all aspects of live television production, including sporting events, through Liberty’s Broadcast Communications department and the Liberty Flames Sports Network. In November, 16 out of the 21 crew members who worked on a nationally syndicated broadcast of a town hall about the opioid crisis, featuring First Lady Melania Trump, were students.

As the nation’s demand for more cybersecurity professionals grows, Liberty’s Cyber Defense Club helps students sharpen their skills in the National Cyber League, where collegiate teams face off against professional ethical hackers to see who can best protect their systems from threats.

Every spring, Family & Consumer Sciences students showcase their designs on the runway during an annual fashion show. This year’s show is scheduled for April 6.

Through a partnership with Virginia Technical Institute, students can add valuable skills to their tool belt, such as welding, electrical, carpentry, HVAC, or plumbing — all programs approved by the National Center for Construction Education and Research. Minors, interdisciplinary degrees, and electives are available in the Liberty Technical Studies program.

Aspiring lawyers test their legal and courtroom skills against students from other schools in practical skills competitions. At the undergraduate level, students from the Helms School of Government participate in moot court (simulated courtroom arguments). At Liberty’s School of Law, students participate in moot court as well as arbitration, negotiation, and appellate advocacy competitions.

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