Empowerment. Growth. Change. Preparation. Unique. Hands-on. These are words that describe the Experience First program at Greenville University. One required course for all GU students is University 401. Under the course title UNIV 401, students can elect to do a 401 project or an Experience First project. Experience First pairs students with industry leaders such as stakeholders in the university or business owners to work on a specified project. Students from across majors can apply to this program. The goal of the program is to prepare students for their future occupations and life outside the college campus.Laura Goodnight, a 2017 graduate of GU, had great things to say about her involvement with Experience First. “Experience first was a fun and useful experience. As a student in the course, I gained a lot of necessary technical knowledge in Excel for my future career in accounting,” she stated. Her journey as a student in the program was one she will remember and carry with her throughout the rest of her life. She enjoyed it so much that the following semester, she decided to be a mentor for the students in the course. Goodnight describes, “I benefitted from managing projects taken on by students with a variety of majors, interests, and strengths. This experience has carried over into my current master’s program as I navigate group dynamics for projects, and it will continue to be relevant upon entering the workplace.”
During the Experience First program, students are paired with their classmates to work on various and specific tasks. Nick Watterson, a current student in Experience First, stated, “I chose to apply and participate in Experience First because I wanted to do a capstone project that would involve real-life applications and results. I would absolutely recommend this program to other students. It goes so far beyond that typical college-level project and challenges you in ways that nothing else will.” This semester, Watterson is joining a few of his classmates to tackle a project titled 'Design and Dine.' His group partnered with Kevin Kauffman from Simply Amish furniture to put new furniture in the dining commons at GU. All students on campus will benefit from the work put in by Watterson’s Experience First team.
Another current student in the program, Kayla Morton, has an entirely positive outlook on the program. Her reason for joining was a desire to work with real businesses. “In college, we do a lot of talking about hypothetical situations and possibilities for the future, but Experience First is very practical. It will really prepare us to go out into the world and into our careers.” Morton has also thoroughly enjoyed learning from her peers outside her major. “As upper division students, we work with a lot of people who have similar skills as us, so this is different and good,” she continues. Her Experience First team is partnering with Marcoot Jersey Creamery by making marketing materials, mainly videos, to expand their reach and to educate people on what they do at the farm. Morton’s love for the program is so deep that she would recommend it to other students. She states, “It is really nice to know that the work that we are doing this semester is actually going to make a difference. I appreciate the ways the professors and project managers have invested in us to help us figure out how to work well in a group and find our place.”
The program is thriving. Even so, Johnny Hinton, a current advisor, believes that there is room for even more growth. “To make this program even more Greenville, I really would love to see more critical thinking opportunities. I'm involved to help make it even better,” Hinton proclaims. Did you catch that? He used “Greenville” as an adjective because this experience is unique to this university! He continues with, “I think there are some amazing benefits for some students, but that doesn't mean I would recommend this program for every student. Each capstone project program that we have at Greenville can come with amazing results for different types of students. It is how each student embraces the project they are working in and what they decide they want from it.”
The Experience First course is more than just a class. Students gain hands-on involvement that can benefit the entire community. This practice is like no other practice available at other colleges and universities. With the professors working one-on-one with their students, industry leaders that pour wisdom into the lives of their partners, and a group of people that care for the common benefit of all, this program is one that stands out among the rest.