"These days, our promotional materials start with the words, 'We're hiring.' And we are," says W. Rufus Massey Jr., assistant vice president for enterprise development at Berry.
Massey grew up in Lookout Mountain and was the first member of his family to graduate from college. He went to Berry, and has been followed by 26 relatives.
"At Berry the promise is that any student who wants to work on campus has a job," he said. "We don't want them just to mow grass or work in a lab. We want them to work in a program where they can develop skills, so that's our commitment to each of them."
It's a unique program unlike anything else in the country, he said. At present there are more than 1,500 students working on campus. They work in the dining hall, cut grass, work as researchers, project managers, work at the alumni center, in the stables, in the dairies, more than 300 different types of jobs, Massey said.
Work has been integral at Berry since its beginning more than a century ago. Many of the school's buildings were funded by Henry Ford, and its campus is the biggest in the world at more than 13,000 acres.
More than 95 percent of Berry students work during their four years on campus.
Berry ramped up its student work program in fall 2008. The Student-Operated Enterprises program leverages the work program, is operated by teams of students with a faculty co-manager and has an advisory board for coaching and mentoring. The businesses remain under the auspices of Berry with revenues returned to the institution for costs and, student salaries.
The students compete for positions for each enterprise and are responsible for developing and implementing project plans, followed by business, financial and marketing plans.
It's also important that the work the students do be meaningful to them. So what is "meaningful work" at Berry? It has value to the student, has positive learning outcomes, such as teaching negotiation skills, and it has direct and indirect connections to the curriculum. Meaningful work also has value to the college, via improved services, reduced operating costs and increased revenue. By end of spring semester of last year, nine pilot projects were in operation, Massey said. They were:
* The Berry Farms Angus Beef - In partnership with a local USDA certified processor, this team offers select cuts of meat to the local Berry and Rome community.
* The Berry Farms Jersey Milk - This team directly markets Berry College Jersey milk (for the first time since 1959) to Berry and the local community. Business partners include the Dairy Farmers Association and Cagle Dairy. Students are directly involved in marketing, sales, delivery and accounting, and options for processing are being researched.
* The Cottages at Berry - This team's goal is to reinvent the bed and breakfast experience. Team members provide accommodating and affordable lodging services in a tranquil atmosphere surrounded by an unforgettable natural landscape.
* The Berry Farms Season's Harvest - Objective of the sustainable garden is to provide an educational opportunity and further the organic cause in the community.
* The Berry Farms Jersey Beef - Provides healthy, tender meat products utilizing Jersey steers derived from the dairy operations. The team offers customers whole, side or quarter steer portions in partnership with USDA certified facility handling processing, packaging and product pickup.
* Berry Alumni Collection - This enterprise will provide robust on-line store in partnership with the existing gift shop, which currently has a limited online presence.
* The Berry Farms Jersey Genetics - This team works in collaboration with the Jersey Marketing Service and the American Jersey Cattle Association to provide genetics products to breeders world-wide. Leveraging the strong genetic basis inherent in the Berry Dairy herd, the team utilizes professional veterinary services to harvest and market high quality embryos to breeders with recipient animals.
* Viking Cycle Works - This pilot project launched last month. With a slogan of 'you break it, we fix it', this bike shop team seeks to solve the perennial problem of basic bike repairs as a service to students.
* Berry Nonprofit Strategic Services - A new pilot project, this enterprise will help promote growth and sustainability within other non-profit organizations by providing business planning and strategic planning services.
Yes, it's fair to say that "Berry is hiring," and its students are getting a terrific taste of the real world of business.
Bill Kinney is associate editor of The Marietta Daily Journal.