Kate Trimble appointed Office of Experiential Learning director

Trimble: experiential learning ‘complicates learning in a way that accelerates it’

Kate Trimble, the current Associate Dean for the Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center, will become the new Director of the Office of Experiential Learning Dec. 1. Professor Kim Vandiver PhD ’75, former director of the OEL, will step down to focus his attention on the Edgerton Center.

The OEL was recently reorganized to consist of five units: D-Lab, UROP, the Edgerton Center, the Global Education program, and the PKG Center, according to previous coverage in The Tech.

The hope of the reorganization, Vandiver explained in an interview with The Tech, is that “the contributions that those groups can make [as a whole] is greater than the sum of their parts.”

Trimble hopes to “really turbocharge experiential learning … [and] to move some experiential learning opportunities from being a bolt-on activity for students into something that’s much closer to the core of what an MIT education is,” she said in an interview with The Tech.

Experiential learning is “messy, complicated, and oftentimes frustrating because it's not happening in a controlled laboratory environment, but it mirrors the way that people tackle problems after they've gotten out of school and graduated,” Trimble said. Yet, because of its real world consequences, experiential learning “complicates learning in a way that accelerates it.”

One challenge Trimble expects to face is how decentralized experiential learning is at MIT, as it is spread over multiple programs, departments, and clubs; she hopes that the OEL will help students navigate these different offerings.

Mary Markel Murphy, chair of the OEL director search committee, said in an interview with The Tech that Trimble stood out during the search — which began in April 2018 — because she presented “the most compelling vision with regard to [building] connective tissue between the five units [of OEL], while at the same time maintaining and celebrating the uniqueness of each unit.”

During her time as Associate Dean of the PKG Center, Trimble has helped to create new initiatives focused on climate change, such as the PKG Spring Break program and a partnership with Terrascope.

“I'm really excited about [Trimble] in this role,” Vice Chancellor Ian Waitz said in an interview with The Tech. Experiential learning programs are “so important for MIT, and I think we have just the right person to move them to another level.”