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Steps Magazine: Senior Experience Program

Garnering practical, real-world experience is what the Cal State San Marcos Senior Experience Program is all about. In the program, groups of four to five students work on a project submitted by a local business or non-profit. The program is the only one of its kind in the nation and is a graduation requirement for all College of Business Administration (CoBA) majors.“Senior Experience provides our students with hands-on experience,” says Jim Hamerly, director of business community relations for the College of Business Administration. “Our students are in essence working as consultants on a real-world project. They have the opportunity to apply their classroom knowledge and enhance project management and team work skills.”With the oversight of a faculty member, the students form their own teams and create a team contract which details roles and responsibilities. Hamerly says students are highly encouraged to form multi-disciplinary teams. “While the team might have a marketing project, often times they find someone from another discipline like finance provides extremely valuable insight.”According to Hamerly, large and small companies as well as for-profit and non-profits have benefited from the Senior Experience Program.“Some companies bring us a project as an opportunity they are interested in exploring but just don’t have the time to address. A small company might bring a project that they don’t have the internal expertise to handle,” says Hamerly.Senior Experience Projects run the gamut from writing business plans to analyzing a manufacturing process to conducting feasibility studies for introducing a new product or entering a new market. During the 16 years that Senior Experience has been in place, hundreds of companies have benefitted from participation.“We find some organizations implement recommendations immediately while others may have a delayed response,” says Hamerly. “Overall, companies find tremendous value. The students typically invest between 750 and 1,000 hours into the project. The overall cost is considerably less than if the sponsor brought in a private consultant to address the project.”The benefits organizations derive from Senior Experience is further evidenced by the number of companies that participate year after year. One such company is Global Energy Network Institute (GENI), a non-profit organization focused on research and educational activities related to renewable energy. The organization has sponsored numerous Senior Experience Programs with tremendous results.“Our experience has been that the students have a very detailed way of analyzing the issue,” says Peter Meisen of GENI. “We have been able to take the results of the projects and immediately put them to use.”Once they enter the workforce, CSUSM alumni also tap into the Senior Experience Program. This semester alone, alumni are sponsors for six projects.A highlight each semester is the Senior Experience Tradeshow where students are able to showcase their projects. Company sponsors and members of the business community are invited. Held at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido, the program attracts nearly 300 participants.“Senior Experience is a rigorous program,” says Hamerly. “Our students are putting in 15 to 20 hours per week on their projects, but I hear time and time again that our students find this experience invaluable. It’s something that they never forget.”Senior Experience is a true win-win program. Through the lessons learned in Senior Experience, CSUSM graduates enter the workforce better prepared to take on business challenges while the region’s business community benefits from an energetic team taking a fresh approach to a business project.Senior Experience StatisticsMore than 16 yearsMore than 4,600 studentsMore than 1,100 projects completedMore than 1.3 million hours of service to the community