It doesn't take long to realize that Doug Tschopp's students are a reflection of him in terms of enthusiasm for Augustana College's Entrepreneurial Center.
"This is something no other college kid would get," said junior Amber Dalgaard from Antioch, Ill. "I have friends at other colleges, and they say they have nothing like what I get from this college, which is real-world experience. This is nothing I could learn in classrooms."
Also called the EDGE (Entrepreneurial Development through Guided Experiences) Center, the program began in 2010. It offers opportunity for students to build their portfolios and gain experience that sets them apart in their professional careers. Customers seek help in areas of creating websites, logos, marketing and even planning major conferences.
The center is located next to the Career Center in Sorensen Hall on the Rock Island campus.
Beyond the walls of Augustana, organizations and businesses are finding that the edge comes from working with those students to develop quality communication, marketing and management assets.
Tschopp, the college's public relations instructor and the center's director, said a variety of services are available to the community.
"Most discover us for website services, but we also do graphic design and event management, plus a number of odds and ends," he said.
He said the EDGE Center allows students to work with not-for-profits, government agencies and small businesses. The client list stands at about 150. Among them are Davenport School District, Freedom Ministries, Project NOW, Tacey Electric, Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Society, Habitat for Humanity, Against The Grain Brewery & Ale House, Bass Street Chop House and Zion Lutheran Church, Davenport. He said about 60 percent of clients are not-for-profit organizations and 40 percent are businesses, all mostly in the Quad-Cities.
Bethany for Children & Families, Moline, is happy with the relationship it has with the EDGE Center, according to Jocelyn Stone, communications manager at Bethany.
"They helped primarily with our website and emailing hosting," she said. "We have been a client for several years. Over the summer, they refreshed all of our templates, design, interaction to make sure it looks good. They did a super job. It is impossible to compare what they give as opposed to for-profit business that do this kind of work. The (low cost) alone makes it a huge win for us. But with the amount of support, the updating and level of professionalism, it is super. It is a wonderful partnership. And the students who are working on it are learning."
"Students learn marketable skills in their field, but more than that they learn project management and client communications," Tschopp said. "Each project allows for many teaching moments in many of my areas of expertise."
Tschopp said the EDGE Center developed from a student-organized Web Guild that was formed about 15 years ago. The students were operating the guild as a business similar to what they do now as the EDGE Center. Four years ago, the EDGE Center was created "and we took their model because it was so successful," he said.
Tschopp said clients are charged a small portion of what they would pay for a professional Web design company. In most cases, that amount to hundreds of dollars for their services as opposed to thousands they would spend elsewhere.
He said for the most part, students are not paid. However, money from clients helps pay for equipment and conference trips students take that area related to the business.
"Some students do an internship for credit. That is up to the students," he said. "But most just do it for the learning. There is a small core group of students. But we may put out a call on a Saturday to help work on a project and students come. There probably are a lot of students who consider themselves members of the guild and part of the EDGE team. But some are there all the time."
That is true of Andy Shearouse, a junior from Coal Valley who is majoring in business and computer science. He also is president of the Web Guild.
"I like being able to work on real-life projects. It is like an internship without going off campus for an internship," he said.
One client is the village of Milan, for which a website was created.
"They had a website but had issues with it, like being hacked," Tschopp said. "So we created it and maintain it."
Dalgaard, who is majoring in communications studies and psychology, is part of an international conference planning team. The team, which consists of four event planners, a web developer and a computer programmer, does a complete management of an annual international conference. Students manage everything from hotel registrations and program coordination to the logistics of the conference. The team also travels to the conference itself. Later today, a team will fly to Panama City, Panama, for the International Family Therapy Association's annual conference where at least 350 people from 35 countries are registered.
Also traveling there will be Tschopp and Heather Ohde, who graduated in May.
Ohde majored in biology and classical studies with Latin emphasis. The Wausau, Wis., native is working as a seasonal naturalist in environmental education in Eagle River, Wis. But because she worked a lot on the Panama conference, including after her graduation, she wouldn't miss it.
"During summer, I was helping with email and kind of supervising the interns," she said. "This gives you such a huge edge when you go into the workforce. When you start doing international conferences, it is a big deal."
Sophomore Andrew Houkal, of Plano, Ill., had the opportunity to go to a larger university. But it was the EDGE Center that kept him at Augustana. His mother moved to Idaho and wanted him to attend Boise State University. But after talking to a college representative there, he found out there was nothing close to the EDGE Center. "She said I could start one there," he said with a smile. "But I am so glad I stayed here.
"I have met lots of people and it also has been a great experience to work with clients and get skills not all have. It looks good to employers to have experience working with actual websites and working with actual clients with actual websites."
The uniqueness of the program is not lost on Tschopp.
"I have talked to hundreds of people and nobody has this," he said. "There are ad agency colleges, but nothing like this in regular colleges. I have had some try to start it at other schools, but nobody has been able to get it off the ground."