Eric Skipper

Perhaps the most fundamental objective of USCB’s Strategic Plan 2023 is to “strengthen and develop academic opportunities to meet the needs of a dynamic and changing world.” To this end, Chancellor Al Panu has made experiential learning a priority for all USCB students.

Experiential learning, or learning by doing, is a universally recognized “best practice” for preparing students for employment post-graduation. Experiential learning includes fieldwork opportunities (like internships and practicums), undergraduate research, study abroad, and performance-based learning.

Some colleges have made experiential learning a hallmark of their educational platform. Elon University documents such experiences on students’ transcripts. Schools like Northeastern and Georgia Tech leverage hugely successful Co-op programs, whereby students alternate semesters between school and work.

Often experiential learning opportunities result in job offers after graduation.

USCB students participate robustly in experiential learning opportunities. In doing so, they provide significant value to the community.

In 2018, USCB adopted as its Quality Enhancement Plan for accreditation “Students Connected: Fieldwork for the Future,” which pairs students in select courses with community partners in order to solve real-world problems.

The model comes from the EPIC-N nonprofit association, which also counts Arizona State University, Boston University and other select service-oriented institutions as members.

With guidance from their professors, USCB students in this program have conducted a transportation needs assessment and a food deserts inventory for Together for Beaufort County. Students in public health, hospitality and communication have formulated communications plans for Club House Beaufort County, Heritage Tourism in Beaufort County and Volunteers in Medicine HHI. Anthropology students are excavating the historic Barnwell tabby structure on Hilton Head Island.

The “Students Connected” initiative compliments the efforts of academic programs with built-in requirements that connect students with the workforce. During this 2018-19 academic year, 119 human services students have provided 14,280 service hours in the Lowcountry.

Considering the independent sector rate for volunteer time in South Carolina is $22.22 per hour, that equates to $317,301.60 of value to the region.

Hospitality management students provide much-needed workforce in our area’s restaurants, hotels and resorts, while gaining valuable work experience. Our new state-of-the-art Hilton Head Island campus models the experiential learning concept by functioning as a working event center for hospitality with food production, beverage and innovation labs as well as high-tech classrooms.

Communication studies students serve as production assistants for the program “By The River,” a collaborative production between USCB and SCETV that features Lowcountry authors. Computational science students have designed websites for local nonprofits such as the Penn Center and the Heritage Library Foundation, and helped to build the Bluffton Buddy tourism app.

Experiential learning courses are offered in other degree programs such as accounting, marketing, English, liberal studies, psychology, sociology and theatre. Nursing and education majors gain valuable experience in clinical and classroom settings throughout the region. Across the curriculum at USCB, 29 courses have a required experiential learning component, while 14 provide optional experiential learning opportunities.

Students also participate in experiential learning activities away from campus. This summer, many USCB students have left the Lowcountry in order to study abroad, participate in internships, and perform research. Three students will participate in prestigious NSF-funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU’s) at Harvard, University of Iowa and MUSC. Besides enhancing their skills and fine-tuning their acumen, these students will bring valuable perspectives back to the University and the community.

Experiential learning is a vehicle for gaining valuable hands-on experience, which leads to enhanced student learning. When leveraged properly, such opportunities can greatly strengthen the economy and the fabric of the University and the community.

Community impact is not just a goal for USCB; it is a primary measure of the University’s success. Community engagement through student experiential learning is a win-win for all.

Eric Skipper, Ph.D., is the provost and executive vice chancellor for Academic Affairs at the University of South Carolina Beaufort.