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Clemson University: Giving Students Experience Before Graduation

Clemson University’s business school isn’t like any other. Whereas most colleges allow students to focus on select concentrations, Clemson follows a different structure that focuses on creative inquiry. 

The Creative Inquiry program is described as “the imaginative combination of engaged learning and undergraduate research, and it is undergraduate research unique to Clemson University.” Through this program, students participate in small group learning where a professor or company sponsors their project. Each group has the opportunity to explore a topic they’re passionate about, taking ownership of the projects to solve problems and get answers. 

We recently stopped by Clemson University for research week, and we found ourselves wanting to learn more. We sat down with Associate Professor of Marketing and faculty mentor, Anastasia Thyroff, and marketing major, Kerrigan White, to learn more about the program.

The Experience Design Behind Clemson’s Creative Inquiry Program

Since the program started in 2005, over 33,400 students have explored over 1,000 research projects. Investigative topics range from children’s literacy to medical devices to the conservation of marine resources

These projects allow students to gain new experiences while taking sole responsibility. It’s on them to see the project through, forcing them to take appropriate actions and risks to ensure success. They also open the door to travel experiences for their research through the university’s grant program. 

Creative Inquiry students obtain the single most valuable thing a college graduate can get: experience. When these students start applying for jobs, they aren’t entering their field for the first time. Instead, they can refer to real happenings, strengths, and challenges they encountered during their experience. Clemson University is nurturing the next generation of experience researchers, putting them above entry-level status when they enter the workforce.

Anastasia Thyroff on the Student Experience 

Dr. Anastasia Thyroff attended the University of Georgia’s Masters of Marketing Research program. She is an associate professor of marketing and faculty mentor in the Creative Inquiry program at Clemson University. She works with students in the Creative Inquiry program to push them to create valuable experiences for themselves.

The ExperienceBuilt Group: “Why is experiential learning relevant for students and in academia today versus what some of us who were an undergrad a long time ago might have experienced?”

Anastasia Thyroff: “There’s so many ways I could answer that because there are so many benefits to experiential learning. You know, we all have all the information and knowledge we could ever need at our fingertips online. So when we think of the role of the university and higher ed today, it’s gotta be more than just that knowledge acquisition. It has to be about working together. It has to be interdisciplinary. It has to be about using what we learn to be strategic thinkers, to think critically, to work together, to feel confident in what you're learning and applying it to changing the world.”

The ExperienceBuilt Group: “I think programs like this are doing such a good job preparing students for those business skills. So, how do you see this evolving or like, how do you hope it grows? What does the future look like for it?”

Anastasia Thyroff: “Clemson has a new strategic plan. It’s called Clemson Elevate. And at the heart of that, they want to have the number one student experience in the nation for our students. And when I heard that, I go: ‘This is creative inquiry.’ I love our honors programming on campus, and the college and business program itself has so many cool signature programs that students can get involved in. But really I think creative inquiry could be a large part of these experiences for students.”

The ExperienceBuilt Group: “I love it, and hearing student experience is near and dear to my heart, as you know. I mean, just thinking about what that can be for students because we often talk a lot as a team at EBG about time and emotion. And students say this was some of the best time they spent and the stuff they most connected with, and those are so critical, you know, to have that good experience.”

Student Kerrigan White Shares the Student Perspective

Kerrigan White is a Clemson University senior in the Creative Inquiry program. Studying marketing with a minor in psychology, she found the program with some help from Anastasia Thyroff’s Qualitative Research Methods class. After the professor spoke about past student experiences, Kerrigan was hooked.

Kerrigan White: “I wanted to get more experience that’s not necessarily in a classroom. It’s more personal. It’s in a smaller group where I can actually learn and touch all parts of research and see the whole process. We decided to start it last summer and started doing secondary research about music festivals, chaos theory, and overarching topics that tied into what we were focusing on. [We focused on] lollapalooza and how crowd management happens. 

We had experience with building surveys and collecting data through in-depth interviews. So that’s how we shifted from secondary research. We created a survey and put it into the Clemson Research Pool, basically where it’s sent out to all different kinds of students, people from all different backgrounds. Our survey more or less, it didn’t really focus on Lollapalooza, but focused on chaos and how chaos makes people feel. We wanted to get a background on the threshold where chaos becomes too much and people dive into panic versus enough chaos [where they’re having fun and not overwhelmed.”

The ExperienceBuilt Group: “What made you think this might be different than what I would get in traditional undergrad classes?”

Kerrigan White: “I think it’s just like a really cool experience to touch on things that aren’t necessarily covered in a traditional class or that are even offered. I knew that it would allow me to learn a lot and be able to be guided and have a personal experience on these niche, special topics that I was interested in.

Other colleges and universities should take a page out of Clemson University’s book in order to maximize the student experience. Consider what means the most to students and their future careers to make their time worthwhile.

Want to improve your student or customer experience? Check out our free 90-day roadmap to get started.


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