Culinary student Abigail Sisson featured on national experiential learning panel

By Victoria Brown 

Culinary arts student Abigail Sisson discusses experiential learning during a national virtual panel on April 29, 2024.
Culinary arts student Abigail Sisson discusses
experiential learning during a national virtual panel
on April 29, 2024.

Southwest Tennessee Community College student Abigail Sisson was selected as part of a national student panel on experiential learning and its impact on the college experience.

Nominated by Southwest’s Interim Dean of the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence, Matthew Lexow, Sisson was among nine college students chosen nationally by the Journal of Experiential Learning and Teaching Higher Education for the virtual student panel on April 29, 2024, and the only student representing a community college. 

Experiential learning is a form of learning that involves student participation and allows students to get hands-on experience in their fields of study through internships, networking events, and immersive activities, such as study abroad trips.

“I was excited to be chosen,” Sisson said. “Students from all over U.S. were selected for the panel to discuss experiential learning, and how lectures and professors speaking in front of the classroom isn’t always the best idea,” Sisson said. “We discussed how interactive lessons can positively impact student learning.” 

Sisson graduated in May 2024 with an associate of applied science degree in hospitality management with a concentration in culinary arts. She was tapped as a panel participant because of the unique experiences she could share as a culinary arts student.  

“As a culinary major, I pointed out that we got to work at a lot of local events during my time at the college. We worked a local food and wine festival and a gala supporting St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital,” Sisson said. “These opportunities to work and network are prime examples of experiential learning, as we were able to build connections while working in our industry.”

Sisson said she enjoyed being a panelist. “I was definitely on the younger end and was in one of the unconventional majors, but as I got more comfortable and got to know the other panelists and their backgrounds, it allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of what experiential learning is,” Sisson said. “The panel helped educate me, as well.”

According to Sisson, her selection on the panel highlights Southwest’s role in preparing students for their future through its academic programs. She mentioned that there is occasionally a negative stigma around community colleges and what they offer to students, but she believes that stigma is unfounded.

“I was in Fundamentals of Communication this past semester, which helped me learn how to communicate and network more effectively. I’ve always been a person who speaks my mind, but between the course and networking, I do feel like Southwest prepared me to be on a panel like this.

“Southwest was the only community college on the panel. By allowing a community college to be on a panel like this, helps people to recognize and look at the bigger impact these colleges can have on students,” Sisson said. 

Abigail Sisson celebrated her graduation from Southwest during a study-abroad trip to Greece.
Abigail Sisson celebrated her graduation from
Southwest during a study-abroad trip to Greece.

More recently, Sisson gained valuable experiential learning during her spring semester trip to Greece as part of Southwest’s International Studies Program. Her time abroad provided a first-hand cultural immersion and helped her develop new skills related to her hospitality degree.

“Greece was absolutely fantastic. I found out about the trip from a former professor. I went in to it not really knowing what to expect, but I was excited about the food, especially as a culinary major,” Sisson said. “It was a fantastic experience.”

Sisson currently works at Dory, a restaurant in Memphis, Tennessee. She began working at the restaurant as an intern in the fall of 2023 and was later promoted to an employee. She plans to remain there for the foreseeable future. 

“I started as an intern last fall. I’m really enjoying it and have no plans to leave anytime soon,” Sisson said. “I'm learning a lot through the owner, and as of right now I plan to continue to work there.”

For more information about the student panel or the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence, contact Lexow at