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Educated for citizenship in the real world

Discussing the unique Madison Experience
Condensed from Fall 2009 Madison

JMU alumnus Levar Stoney ('04) talked to JMU Dingledine Scholar Josh Kelaher ('11) about what makes the Madison Experience unique -- the focus on students, citizenship, and real-world experience, the passion of professors and students, the challenging academics, the social opportunities and responsibilities, the openness of faculty and the numerous cross-disciplinary degrees and collaborative and study abroad programs.

Every student can change the world

Kelaher: Madison is real-world focused. JMU sees something that they can bring out in every student. They see hope and the ability for every student to change the world. JMU wants you to go out and get a real-world experience, communicate with people, interact with people, be social. ... Everyone makes you work hard but part of that work is emphasizing that you've got to learn what the world's about, too.

Stoney: And I'll tell you this, Josh; there has not been a day that I've been intimidated in a room full of colleagues who have degrees from Cornell or Harvard or U.Va. I'm just as prepared as these guys from Ivy League schools. That says a lot about the Madison Experience. I love that JMU puts it in the mission statement -- that students are to become educated and enlightened citizens who lead productive and meaningful lives. I think that's one reason JMU emphasizes undergraduate education, and why undergraduate research opportunities are so important.

Kelaher: You can have a lot of brilliance in your student body that goes untapped unless you have the opportunity to really give what you have to give. It's wide open at JMU.

Stoney: JMU definitely puts the ball in your court. Is JMU challenging you?

"Professors are there for you"

Kelaher: Oh yeah, but the professors are always there to help. I can't tell you how many professors' open office hours I've used, or how available they make themselves. There's one professor in ISAT -- no matter what he's doing, he'll drop his stuff and talk to me. And it could be about anything -- his class, someone else's class, stuff that's going on in life. It doesn't matter. JMU professors are there for you.

Stoney: It was a challenging experience for me, too, but that's what you want out of your academic career. That type of challenge is something that motivates you to try harder and bring out the potential you really do have. In the beginning, someone told me that the key to being comfortable with your course is to have a conversation with your professor. I took that to heart. I made sure for every class that I took that I would stop by and visit and have a true relationship with the person who was actually instructing the course.

Kelaher: The professors are not here to just do research. They're here because they love teaching. They want to see you succeed. They will help you through a class the whole way. They're in the back pushing you, and when you're standing at the end of a course and you know your stuff, there's really not a better feeling than that. JMU sets you up on this edge, and says, "Look at all this. This is your domain. You are able to do something with this." Learning at JMU is so much more than just a lecture hall or a classroom.

A public administration major, Stoney began laying the foundation for his career in Virginia politics while serving as SGA president for two years at JMU. Kelaher says the integrated science and technology program is the "perfect fit for his interests," which include having a voice in environmental policy. He has tutored students through the Spanish Honor Society, volunteered for Habitat for Humanity and studied abroad in Costa Rica, getting a firsthand look at renewable energy projects.