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University of Illinois Springfield

Department of Credit for Prior Learning University of Illinois Springfield

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Reflections on Learning and Experience

CPL students: Earning from Their Experience

Niveesha Hill reflects on her CPL experience and prior internship with the FBI.

Kemberly Martin: 2008 Outstanding CPL Portfolio Award Winner

“A wonderful opportunity”

Small business ownership

“It’s never too late to finish your degree”

International experience


Niveesha Hill, a Credit for Prior Learning Niveesha Hillstudent during the Fall 2008 Semester created her CPL portfolio based on her experiences as an intern with the FBI.  As Hill notes, it was the experiences she had growing up that led her to her internship and the place she is at today.

Hill was born in Chicago, Illinois but lived most of her life growing up in Springfield, Illinois.  Since a young age, Hill always enjoyed helping others but was not sure what direction she wanted her life path to take.  It was not until after earning her Associate’s degree from Lincoln Land Community College that she really “found” herself and says, “I was more than ready to receive an excellent education at UIS.”

Hill interned with the FBI in Washington D.C. during the summer of 2008. She was placed in the Cyber Division Unit named the Innocent Images National Initiative, which investigated the vilest of crimes against children. Hill says, “Not only did working for the FBI open my eyes to many things that people ignore, but it had indeed changed my life.”

After her return to campus for the fall semester, peers informed Hill of the Credit for Prior Learning Program, and she jumped on board.  Hill says writing her portfolio was in a sense therapeutic.  “I left the FBI with images and thoughts that had burned themselves into my psyche.  I wouldn’t say that I was traumatized, but I would say I was changed…not for bad but for better.”  She goes on to say, “I was able to put my thoughts, feelings, and emotions down on paper.  I got a chance to tell my story, and I have the CPL program to thank for that.”

After writing her portfolio, Hill reflects on the experience and says, “The best thing that came out of writing my portfolio was that I really got to know myself inside and out.  I came to recognize my strengths. Not only that, but I also came to embrace my weaknesses because they are all a part of who I am as a person.”  Completing the CPL course has helped Hill realize her career goals and aspirations.

To students who are thinking about enrolling in EXL 305, Hill says, “The best advice that I could possibly give to anyone considering this course is to not be intimidated by the class; give yourself time to think and write, and never rush your thoughts or else you will not get the truth about yourself.”

Niveesha Hill took her own advice and is on track for a very bright and successful future.

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Kemberly LC Martin describes her portfolio, titled “Finding the Doctor in You, as “an account of my experience and learning while actively searching for quality healthcare to remedy a chronic back infirmity caused by repetitive injuries, and how this quest correlates to my journeys in academia.” A native of Chicago, Ms. Martin’s portfolio spans from her childhood years in the city through her adult life including her time serving as a Medical Laboratory Technician in the US Air Force and as a civilian employee working in the Pentagon during the attacks of September 11, 2001. Through her Narrative Essay, Ms. Martin incorporates learning theory from the class and also from her own independent learning to help her thoroughly identify, evaluate and describe her experiential learning.

The WALDEN-IRWIN Credit for Prior Learning Program Outstanding  Student Award Phyllis Walden and Betsy Irwin were very influential in the design and curriculum of the CPL program.  They were the first director and the first instructor of CPL.  Credit for Prior Learning is a portfolio-based assessment for student who have acquired college-level, experiential learning outside of the traditional university classroom.  The Walden-Irwin Award recognizes the student’s outstanding work in their seminars and proficiency in identifying, documenting and describing in their portfolios their prior experiential learning.

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Teresa Hunt of Decatur, IL was a participant in the Credit for Prior Learning Program during the fall 2007 semester. Teresa works full-time as Program Coordinator for the Illinois Small Business Development Center at the University of Illinois Extension’s Decatur and Champaign locations while attending classes, and she will graduate in spring 2008 with Bachelor of Business Administration degree from UIS.

Teresa first heard about CPL from an informational, campus-wide email, and thought it might be a good fit for meeting her educational needs. She originally decided to take the CPL class, AST 305 Prior Learning Portfolio Development, for the purpose of meeting an elective requirement, but Teresa stated that she had no idea how valuable the course would be for her. The CPL class is online and self-directed and Teresa described how it is each student’s responsibility to stay on task and complete the readings and assignments. Teresa said this was valuable to her because it helped not only her writing and communication skills, but also her organizational, multi-tasking skills and time management skills.

As she worked to complete her portfolio, Teresa admitted that she felt some trepidation at times, but that the instructor (Holly McCracken) was always willing to help and was readily available for assistance and feedback. Teresa stated that she gained self-confidence from the completion of her portfolio.

Teresa highly recommends this course to other students, especially non-traditional students. She explained that by taking the course, she was able to evaluate her academic path in depth, and to consider options for her future. Regarding the CPL program and class, Teresa says, “It’s a wonderful opportunity for students returning to school to gain credit for learning gained from a work profession and/or community services.”

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Hailing from Peoria, IL, Patrick Doyle, a UIS Liberal Studies major, was also a member of the fall 2007 Credit for Prior Learning Program. Patrick holds a degree in graphic design and has been involved in the advertising and marketing fields for over 20 years. For the last 10 years he has co-owned an advertising agency and he is also an advertising consultant with the Marine Engine Division of Caterpillar in Mossville, IL. When Patrick is not busy with his advertising duties he enjoys spending time with his wife and 2 young sons. He also enjoys hiking, traveling, reading, writing, woodworking and cooking.

Patrick first heard about CPL from a coworker. Because he had several past learning experiences, he thought CPL might be a good path to take to earn credit. Patrick narrowed down his experiences and decided to focus on developing his CPL portfolio around his prior small business ownership. Patrick stated that by developing his CPL portfolio, it gave him an “opportunity for me to academically legitimize a valuable period of intense learning in my life.”

To Patrick, writing his learning autobiography was the most rewarding part of his portfolio development, because he was able to look back and see where certain events or people contributed to his life learning, although he did not realize it at the time. He described this as a “sense of discovery” that to him, was very exciting. Participating in the CPL program also allowed Patrick to realize that he has enjoyed numerous, unique and interesting learning experiences, and that he actually enjoys the process of learning!

Patrick said that as a result of completing the CPL course, AST 305 Prior Learning Portfolio Development, he has learned to seek out “teaching moments” in practically every experience. He also described how he holds a deeper appreciation for those individuals who have contributed to his learning throughout his life. Patrick described the CPL process being similar to “sorting through and old scrapbook of your life” examining different “snapshots” of past experiences and deciding how they contributed to your life.

Patrick suggests that CPL would be beneficial to someone who has a few years post-high school life experience. That being said, he also thinks that if a person has an open mind, there is likely to be areas of past learning that may have been taken for granted and would work well for CPL. It did for Patrick Doyle!

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Shannon O’Connor, an online Liberal Studies undergraduate student living in New Jersey, recently successfully completed AST 305 Prior Learning Portfolio Development

How did she make her way to UIS from New Jersey? Shannon has this to say:

“When I decided to go back to school, I looked online for a state school that offered online-only programs at a reasonable cost, as well as lifetime learning credit opportunities. Private schools would have been too costly, and I don’t trust the “for-profit” schools that get so much attention. The UIS program was exactly what I needed.”

Shannon is a great example of the type of student UIS is uniquely positioned to assist.

The impact Shannon’s CPL experience had on her life gave her a clear view of her lifelong learning and how it shaped and influenced her life. Shannon states,

“I have a much better picture of my educational goals since taking the CPL course. Describing and writing about my experience made me focus on not only what I learned but also its application in my life and my career.”

Shannon also shares some thoughts with students who might be interested in taking AST 305, the Credit for Prior Learning class:

“Take a critical, objective look at the experiences you are considering for credit. Be sure they reflect college-level learning, but don’t shortchange yourself, either.”

College-level learning can be defined as a learning experience in which the material or information learned can be implemented in other venues from that in which it was learned.

Shannon concludes with the statement,

“It’s never too late to finish your degree! I’ll be thirty-eight when I graduate, but I would have been thirty-eight no matter what. I’d rather get my degree at thirty-eight than never!”

Shannon is on track to a rewarding future in which her dreams and goals are realized, and CPL is glad to have assisted her along her way.

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With the growing number of students attending UIS, there has also been an increase in students outside of Illinois utilizing the Credit for Prior Learning Program. One of these students is Georg Zunner, who is originally from Germany but came to the United States in 2001. Georg has diverse interests, including an interest in music. A passion of Georg’s is working with computers, and to help him explore that interest, he came to UIS to study for a degree in Computer Science. Georg enrolled in the online Bachelor of Science degree program in Computer Science at UIS to gain a solid academic foundation and enhance his career choices. He attained his goals with hard work and perseverance and graduated in May 2007 with a B.S. in Computer Science from UIS.

In his capacity as a technical architect who travels around the world, Georg is responsible for reviewing all aspects of software implementations with a focus on reporting and analysis.

“I have gained a lot of work experience during my career and learned many things – so the CPL program perfectly met my needs,” Georg notes.

Part of going forward for Georg was looking at his past, and the Credit for Prior Learning Program helped with this process. Georg completed his CPL portfolio in the spring semester of 2006.

He confirms his credit for prior learning experience, “My primary goal has been to finish my college education. The CPL program has been invaluable in this regard. A lot of work is put into the portfolio process, but CPL offers an opportunity to earn credit for what you have already learned through work and life experience. The most rewarding part was the CPL concept itself, because you are actually getting college credit for something you’ve learned outside the classroom. The best thing for me personally was to make myself aware of what I already had accomplished. I sometimes easily forget what I have learned in the past. Comparing my knowledge from ten years ago to what I know now gives me more confidence.”

Georg stated that he hopes his successful experience with the CPL process at UIS will give encouragement to those who are considering enrolling in AST 305 Portfolio Development.

When asked what advice he would give to students who are considering enrolling in the CPL course, AST 305 Prior Learning Portfolio Development, Georg responded, “Do it! Keep in mind that it is not easy, but once you get started and you are in the flow of writing, it becomes less difficult. The fact that you write positive things about yourself and what you have learned provides a higher level of self-confidence and recognition of what you’ve done.”

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Reflections compiled and written by former CPL Graduate Assistants: Shelly Bahlow, Joseph Winner, and Frederick Murphy