CEDAR CITY — Southern Utah University has been named this year's top school in the nation for hands-on learning that better prepares students to succeed in the workforce after graduation.
SUU's experiential education program, nicknamed "Edge," was named Outstanding Program of the Year by the National Society of Experiential Education on Wednesday. The award, which will be presented Oct. 6 at the society's annual conference, honors one program nationally for accomplishing goals and implementing best practices.
The Edge program requires all undergraduate students to design and carry out a project that puts what they're learning into practice. Since its implementation five years ago, students have completed projects including starting a small business, building houses in several countries, self-publishing a novel, raising bees for honey, and finding an affordable way to build a piece of lab equipment the school didn't have in its budget.
The university-wide project requirement is unique to Utah and a rarity nationwide.
The society's president, James Colbert, praised SUU for its achievements preparing students for success after college.
"Employers are now looking for this on resumes and they love to see real work experience from graduates," Colbert said. "I think these internships and other forms of experiential learning in higher education are giving students an opportunity to gain experience, which helps employers to see the capability of their employees to get their job done."
Patrick Clarke, dean of SUU's University College, hosted the Experiential Learning Institute at the Cedar City-based university this year, giving the university a strong voice in a national conversation about higher ed teaching strategies.
"One of the things we felt was missing in the national dialogue is getting people from different areas to come together and have these larger discussions," Clarke said. "When people have discussions about experiential learning they usually have it in the context of their own disciplines."
SUU President Scott Wyatt, who praised the Edge program earlier this year as "reinventing general education," congratulated the school's students and teachers for the strides the program has taken.
"Our project based learning program has taken an enormous amount of work over the last five years and I am extremely proud of what our faculty and staff have accomplished. Our students and their future employers are the beneficiaries," Wyatt said.