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Student Experience

Pioneer Enterprise Program enables students to help a community while building their experience

By Doug McPherson

When you’re accepted at the University of Denver you may not expect to end up in Salemi, Silicy. But that’s precisely where six DU undergrads landed – and not through a travel abroad course.

This project, the Pioneer Enterprise Program, goes right to the heart of experiential learning and real-world needs.

Sue Hinkin and Jane Mall, who work in DU’s Career Services, know about a chasm that desperately needs bridging: They’ll tell you about an Inside Higher Education survey that says 96 percent of college leaders thought grads were “very prepared” for the workforce.

“But only 16 percent of industry leaders agreed,” Hinkin says. “That’s a major disconnect we need to address.”

And address it they did by creating the pilot in 2012 with Salemi, supported by a family whose daughter attended DU. Mall had contacts there from previous visits to the small city near the coast that was losing tourism dollars.

They assembled the students, each with a different major, to spend two months scrutinizing Salemi’s dilemma. Then they spent two weeks there last summer. When all was said and done, the students had produced a 28-page report, a marketing and tourism plan, a promotional video, a website, a Facebook page, a Pinterest account, a YouTube presence, a logo, a slogan and plenty of printed marketing materials.

One of the students, Alex Stringari, a senior communications and psychology major, says the work gave her the real-world experience she needed for her future. “We navigated so many issues that you can’t replicate in a classroom,” Stringari says. “I learned to forge relationships with other students from different majors, and that made the experience that much more rewarding.”

Perhaps Hinkin sums it up best: “A program like this isn’t just about a job; it’s about developing human potential.”


Through ASCEND Stories, we examine the impact that philanthropy has made on the lives of our students, faculty, alumni, and donors during ASCEND: The Campaign for the University of Denver.

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