Inquiry Magazine Northwestern School of Education and Social Policy

Fall 2016

“I found my voice through music, and I want to help others strengthen theirs. That’s probably one of the reasons I’m so interested in learning sciences,”

Amanda Simmons: First Undergraduate Learning Sciences Student

Photo by Steve Drey

Sophomore Amanda Simmons exudes enthusiasm, and one of the things she’s especially excited about is her major, learning sciences. Learning sciences is the newest undergraduate major at the School of Education and Social Policy, and Simmons was the very first student to sign up.

Beginning this fall, the undergraduate learning sciences curriculum will allow students to explore current theories of learning in all con- texts and apply this understanding to the design of innovative learning environments. The major builds on SESP’s internationally esteemed graduate program in learning sciences, which was the first in the world.

Simmons heard about the learning sciences major while working as an intern in the SESP Student Affairs Office, and the classes immediately sparked her interest. “I love to learn, and the classes in this major fascinate me as they will help me better understand the impact education has on individuals in society and its application to everyday life,” she says. This quarter she is taking Designing for Social Change as well as Culture and Cognition.

Through her experience with informal types of teaching, Simmons has discovered a keen interest in the learning process and seeing people “find their confidence to the point where they can grow on their own.” In high school she coached figure skating for people with intellectual disabilities and even coached at Special Olympics—experiences that she loved. Her interest in the learning process also led her to tutor elementary school children, tutor students preparing for the ACT test and serve as a peer adviser for dual-degree SESP students. In addition, she has been involved in Best Buddies, an international program that creates opportunities for people with developmental disabilities, and she teaches autistic children to play piano.

“I’ve experienced how alternative types of education help different learners, and I want to be part of that process,” says the Michigan native.

A trailblazer of sorts in learning sciences, Simmons also has the distinction of being one of the first dual-degree music students at SESP. She entered Northwestern in music last August, when the dual-degree program began. “I heard about it during Wildcat Welcome, and I finished my application as soon as I could!” she says. She will eventually earn two separate degrees in learning sciences and trumpet performance, working with advisers in both SESP and Bienen School of Music to achieve this in four years.

Music resonates with Simmons in a very personal way, and she recalls her interest beginning in fourth grade when she read Trumpet of the Swan. “I thought if a trumpet can give a swan a voice, maybe it would help me. I truly fell in love with music,” she says. At Northwestern she plays in Symphonic Band and a chamber group, both of which have performances year-round.

“I found my voice through music, and I want to help others strengthen theirs. That’s probably one of the reasons I’m so interested in learning sciences,” she notes. “There are different techniques and tools you can bring into education that are going to help people in their learning process, in and out of the classroom.”

With her many interests and her bent for collaboration, Simmons gravitated to SESP because she saw unlimited opportunities to interact with people. SESP has other advantages too, as far as she’s concerned. “Every class within SESP has helped me learn not only about the world and society but also about myself, and I can apply that to other aspects of life,” she says.

Simmons says coming to Northwestern was always her dream, and she found her first year to be “incredible.” She comments, “I’m so fortunate to have the opportunity to combine and follow my passions in the place I now call home!”