Diagraming sentences. The Preamble to the Constitution. Operating an abacus. Add all these to the vast pile of facts learned in school but often left gathering dust in memory.

Finding ways to take lessons learned in class and apply them to real-life situations offers students — and their community — benefits that can last a lifetime.

For example, City University of Seattle’s Enactus team, a global nonprofit dedicated to providing experiential learning for university students, is working on a project titled “Clean Up.” The concept is twofold — showing a group of people experiencing homelessness who need employment how to start a business — and that business is removing graffiti from buildings and other surfaces in Seattle, work that is very much needed.

“It’s so exciting to see this idea become real, step-by-step,” says Thamiris Cortes De Aguiar, who is currently studying for her Master’s in Global Management at CityU and is the presiding president of CityU Enactus.

Enactus first partnered with Uplift Northwest (formerly the Millionair Club Charity) to hire their workers who were best suited to start this graffiti removal business. Uplift Northwest serves the community by providing job training, dignified work opportunities and support services to men and women experiencing poverty and homelessness. Then the Enactus team was trained in how to remove graffiti by professionals, developed a curriculum for that training for the homeless, submitted a budget and pitched the idea to the Board Chair of Belltown United, where the project is taking place.

Before implementing this project, the Enactus team presented at the National Enactus Competition and won first place in the early stage division. Kathy Cox, the CityU adviser for Enactus, says her team wins competitions because of their diversity. Most are international students, but there’s also diversity in gender and age, which she believes helps them be more innovative. They work as a team, also making sure to be inclusive, she says.

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“When students can demonstrate a tangible use of what they’ve learned in class, that makes it more relevant,” says Cox.

Putting theory into practice also helps students who are looking for a career position. When they can show they’ve connected their education to real-life experiences, they’ll have a definite advantage.

Anvitha Konda House knows this firsthand. She participated in Enactus from 2019-2021 when she attended CityU. During that time, she recruited new students for the team and onboarded them. Now she works as a technical recruiter for Amazon, doing the same and more.

Konda House’s favorite Enactus project was “Shirtie Masks.” As the pandemic took hold, masks were needed by everyone, especially those experiencing homelessness. The Enactus team answered the call and began making masks from discarded T-shirts donated by the Goodwill. The stretchiness of the T-shirt material made the masks fit well.

The team also created a video showing others how to make the same masks so mask making wasn’t limited to just the Enactus club. This was a way to get as many masks as possible into the hands of those experiencing homelessness. The Enactus team donated more than 1,000 masks to four homeless organizations, including Uplift Northwest.

Besides participating in the Enactus projects, members also gain skills they can take into the work world. De Aguiar says her leadership, communication, teamwork and public speaking skills have all improved.

“We often have to present our organization to new students, such as on orientation day, which last time was 150 students, and that has helped my public speaking skills,” De Aguiar says. “I also have to lead a weekly meeting and pitch ideas to our partners, showing confidence in what we have accomplished and what we want to accomplish.”

Whenever students get the chance to practice what they’ve learned in classes, it’s an opportunity to grow. You may be able to help your community, improve your skills and meet other like-minded people.

“In the classroom we learn theory, and how to solve problems,” says De Aguiar. “In the real world, things often get more complicated. There are problems to be considered, there are unknowns and trade-offs. Learning how to actually apply solutions is a skill that you can only develop through real-life experiences.”

City University of Seattle is accredited through the doctoral level. Find programs in business, leadership, education, health and human services, computer and information systems. CityU is ranked as a 2022 Best Online Bachelor program by US News & World Report.