Students Exceed Expectations Putting Experience First

Published: April 13, 2021

Students went above and beyond earlier this month when they wrapped up their work for the inaugural session of Experience First at Greenville College.

The semester-long learning experience paired students with businesses to tackle high-stakes challenges in the marketplace. Students presented their work to the college community December 6, and presented again to the program's business partners last week.

Angie Eckert, vice president of retail operations at Eckerts Family Farms, seized the opportunity December 6 to publicly acknowledge the students with whom she worked. Eckerts is the nations largest family-owned and operated you-pick orchard. Students developed ideas for increasing consumer traffic during its slower winter months.

Eckert said that the students generated enthusiasm and fostered trust by showing up to meetings on time thoroughly prepared and dressed professionally. She was impressed with how they spoke respectfully and treated each other with incredible respect.

Imagine the Eckerts project times five, and you have a good idea of what Experience First entails. Heres a snapshot:

Student Work Worthy of Capital Investment

Eckerts Family Farms operates at three locations in southwestern Illinois. Its Belleville orchard features a country store and restaurant. Thanks to Experience First, this January it will also feature an ice skating rink in close proximity to the dining and shopping venues.

The rink was one of three ideas the students proposed to Eckerts. Collectively, the students thought it was the least likely proposition to gain buy-in. They were stunned when their business partner chose it.

None of the students on the Eckert team boasted experience or expertise with skating rinks. But they had all tested high in grit and joy, an assessment that Experience First planners used to determine a students good fit for entrepreneurial-type challenges.

Grit and joy (also known as salt and light) are key themes to the Colleges Briner School of Business, home to the orchestrators of Experience First.

Hustling in Unfamiliar TerritoryStudents Exceed Expectations Putting Experience First

The students assigned to the Eckerts project hustled for the balance of the semester. They:

  • researched natural versus synthetic ice,
  • analyzed data about owning a rink versus leasing,
  • computed break-even points,
  • gathered financial data that informed decisions about feasibility, and
  • negotiated price-quotes with rink-suppliers.

In short, they applied all that they could from their liberal arts education to become experts.

Skating at Eckerts will begin next month.

(Pictured at top, students who imagined a skating rink at Eckerts. Pictured above, student Lincoln Siebert negotiated prices with rink-suppliers).

Best Day Ever

Dean of the Briner School of Business Suzanne Davis called presentation day the best day ever of her professional career.

The relationships that were formed during such a short time over the semester are lasting and inspiring, she said. To hear that students will keep in touch with the business leaders even after the project is over is telling.


Here is a summary of the projects that comprised the inaugural launch of Experience First, engaging about 20 students in total.Students Exceed Expectations Putting Experience First

Business partner: Innovative International, LLC

Challenge: Find a new use for the pop up technology of collapsible laundry hampers.

Result: Students collected more than 250 ideas before settling on a device that corrals electrical cords.

Current status: Innovative Internationals engineers have developed specs and a prototype. Representatives will pitch the product to Wal-Mart in April 2017.

(Pictured, Enoch Poon, president of Innovative International LLC, and the students who rose to his challenge).

Students Exceed Expectations Putting Experience FirstBusiness partner: Rural King

Challenge: Investigate ways to increase sales of Good Friend, Rural Kings in-house brand of dog food.

Result: Students generated recommendations based on visits to Rural King stores, scrutiny of its website and work with a lab that analyzed Good Friends ingredients.

Current status: To date, Rural King has implemented two of the students' recommendations, with plans to implement the others. The retailer now lists product ingredients on its website, a move that works in favor of the Good Friend brand. It also has replaced the banner on its dog food web pages with an image that is brand-specific.

(Pictured above, students from the Rural King group listen to guest Dave Willey, Greenville city manager and founding member of the Briner Business School's advisory council.)

Students Exceed Expectations Putting Experience FirstBusiness partner: Simply Amish

Challenge: Create videos that educate todays consumers and Simply Amish sales associates with messaging that relates Amish culture and craftsmanship to top-quality home furnishings that appeal to a mainstream market.

Result: Students conducted preliminary research and established a story line.

Current Status: Next semester, a second Experience First group will move forward on producing the videos.

(Pictured, faculty sponsor Associate Professor Jake Amundson congratulates Anais Diaz and other members of the Simply Amish Furniture Experience First team.)

Business partner: Enertech Global, LLCStudents Exceed Expectations Putting Experience First

Challenge: Create a tool that educates young homeowners about geothermal heating and cooling systems.

Result: Students created an info-graphic for various uses in social media and on the Enertech website.

Current status: Entertech has already envisioned related pieces that draw on the students' design to create animated versions that also educate.

(Pictured, faculty sponsor Deloy Cole, professor of digital media and computer information systems, holds the info-graphic students created for Enertech.)

Business partner: Eckerts Family Farms

Challenge: Increase consumer traffic for the operation during its winter months.

Result: Students proposed installation of an ice skating rink in close proximity to the existing country store and restaurant on its Belleville property.

Current status:Thorough research informed Eckerts decision to install the rink, with skating to begin in January.

Click on the video below to learn more about Experience First

Read more about the great work of students at the Briner School of Business:

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