In April 2014, Chattanooga State Community College began implementing the “Executives-in-the-Classroom” project, supported by a Bringing Theory to Practice grant, to pilot a modernization of the college’s freshman success course. The vision of the project was to provide a distinct contrast to the traditional lecture experience and build a campus culture of social responsibility and civic engagement.
Through CSCC’s Quality Enhancement Plan—W.E. Succeed: Work Ethic First—and a collaboration with other community colleges supported by the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ Roadmap Project, Chattanooga State determined the need for students to envision strong personal goals, to have early opportunities for career exploration, and to begin building support networks to improve their likelihood of academic and personal success. Through “Executives-in-the-Classroom,” faculty and staff modeled strong work ethic and develop courses that include mentoring and service-learning activities, local businesses became active partners with the college to help build a workforce grounded in strong work ethic principles and civic mindedness, and students had the opportunity to develop a personal commitment to strong work ethic and community involvement directly related to their intended academic and career paths.
Business leaders were invited to the campus to discuss student success and professional well-being and to respond to the idea of participating directly in the classroom through mentoring, leading to four pilot courses in fall 2014. Each course included work ethic education, group discussions for college and career success, career exploration, e-portfolio development and personal reflection, and service-learning projects.
The pilot courses received support from three local businesses. Mentors attended class several times each month to encourage the students to excel in their current studies, to begin personal financial planning, and to understand local workforce concerns. At the end of the semester, the students completed a service-learning project in partnership with their corporate sponsor.
Of particular value to all stakeholders is the discussion that grew through this project. Often, businesses only work with successful students who have graduated or are finishing their degrees in an internship or capstone project. The opportunities to discuss and impact wellness and success for all students opened wide as the college invited local businesses to the campus to work with students during their first semester—a time during which students do not generally expect to receive this kind of support or interest. For community college students, discussing career, financial, and work ethic issues with real-world mentors quickly separated this new college experience from the previous high school or collegiate experiences. In addition, this project helped students understand that their financial aid is an investment by the community and that they matter to the people and businesses around them, and they have the opportunity to give back to their community during their first semester.