Maximizing the college experience: The life and work of Amy Morrill Bijeau

Amy Morrill Bijeau sits behind her desk in American University’s Spring Valley building. She has worked as a member of the School of Professional and Extended Studies for 26 years. (Photo by Terrence Kane)

By Terrence Kane

WASHINGTON – Amy Morrill Bijeau has spent nearly three decades working in higher education, trying to maximize the benefits of a liberal education. Though she graduated college unsure of her direction in life, she is confident that where she is now is where she was always meant to be.

Bijeau is the director of experiential education at American University’s School of Professional and Extended Studies. She oversees programs that integrate learning with real-world experience, typically through semester long internships.

While in undergrad at Wake Forest University, Bijeau studied abroad in Dijon, France, for a semester. It was in France that she made two realizations: “I was getting to know and traveling to all corners of this beautiful country of France and I realized that I didn’t know my own country as well. … I noticed that the experience, the learning through senses really did excite me. The cumulative things kind of got me inspired.”

After graduation, Bijeau wasn’t quite sure where she was going to fit in the professional world. She decided to spend some time traveling and working in different parts of the U.S., mostly out West.

During her domestic travels, Bijeau saw her passion for learning reignited. She enrolled in a master’s of education program at University of Virginia, where she took courses focused on counselling and higher education administration.

Bijeau worked several jobs and internships during her studies at Virginia. The most impactful of these, she said, was working in the university’s career center. She discovered she had an affinity for helping students find careers and experiences that pertained to their interests.

Her ability to work with students to find them jobs and internships that best suited them would prove to be an incredibly useful skill during her time at American. Bijeau is generally considered the expert on internship and experiential education in the School of Professional and Extended Studies.

Bijeau has been working within the school for over two decades and has overseen many developments. Donna Chapman Williams, assistant dean for student services, said Bijeau “has definitely worked tirelessly on the internship website. She was instrumental in getting the system, in getting several systems over the years.”

Williams notes that Bijeau often takes a lot of work into her own hands, especially when it is for the benefit of the students, “She has spent a lot of time refining the system, working with the company to make sure that it’s student friendly and user friendly and everything was easy. She’s actually done herself a lot of the work.”

This dedication, Williams believes, comes from a philosophy that the two women share, “She’s another one, like me, who just believes that we shouldn’t make things difficult for students.”

Bijeau said one of her favorite parts of working in higher education is the tangible results that it produces. “There are certain moments when you can see your hand in the work that you do. That it’s an influence on students. Especially in this kind of program. I think this kind of work is so rewarding,” she said.

Her workspace is strewn with papers, an indication of the busy day that awaits her, yet Bijeau doesn’t hesitate to welcome people into her office with a warm smile.

“Amy operates on an open-door policy,” said Ashley Barnes, assistant director for undergraduate programs and freshmen faculty member here at American. Barnes said Bijeau has played a prominent role in her first years on the job. “She made sure I was comfortable here. She checked in on me quite often,” Barnes said.

Bijeau is an integral and hard-working member of the school, according to Williams, who said, “Everybody likes her, they want to help her. … If she asks the faculty or staff to do anything to help her everybody is always willing, no problem.” Williams even went so far as to say sometimes Bijeau works almost too hard, “But the thing about Amy is we just want her to ask more because she always feels like she’s bothering people,” she said.

Bijeau is not only popular among that faculty that she works alongside, but among the students with whom she works. “Amy is great. I always get to hear her conversations with students, and you can tell she has years of experience doing this line of work. It’s definitely her calling,” Barnes said, adding, “It’s been good to hear her have those conversations with students.”

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