Purpose and  Promise

Students speak with employers at Furman’s inaugural Opportunity Fair in September of 2019, which brought more than 200 students together with representatives from 45 top organizations from across the U.S. to learn about internships and job opportunities.

Ask the questions. Gather the data. Experience the culture.

The steps toward a life of purpose are unchanged. Our students are forging ahead, immersed in real-world learning, even as that world presents hurdles never imagined. Engaged learning is a centerpiece of a Furman education. And because of that strong institutional foundation, we have been able to respond flexibly and creatively to the challenges of this moment.

Individualized pathways

At Furman, each engaged learning experience helps lay the groundwork for a meaningful four years. Students are on a four-year pathway, synthesizing what they learn in and out of the classroom, informed by conversations with mentors and advisors, and using their engaged learning experiences to refine their values, interests and skills. And for those taking part in a pilot program, the two-year Pathways Advising Program is how it begins. Students enter the program their first year to ease their transition to college and to explore their individualized pathway.

Building on the initial cohort, the second cohort of Pathways – 122 students, five faculty and six staff advisors – completed its second year, while the third cohort of 148 students, eight faculty and five staff advisors, and seven peer mentors – has now finished its first year. In response to the virus, we revised our curriculum for both year 1 and year 2 programs to emphasize managing stress and uncertainty as well as the transition to online learning.

For third- and fourth-year students, a Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education Program Development Grant, provided by the Council of Independent Colleges and the Lilly Endowment, supports the development of academic department programming and resources. The grant is focused on professional development and reflection on careers and life after Furman. During a summer workshop, faculty gained the resources and support to refine their departments’ curricular and co-curricular offerings. Guest speakers addressed the importance of learning from failure and the steps of a vocational journey. By July 2020, faculty representing all academic departments and majors had participated in the workshop. The goal: to meet our students’ needs and to extend their pathways into majors.


“I love how much you can explore your creativity and curiosity through research. When you’re running experiments, you find a piece of information, which opens the next door.”

– TRENT STUBBS ’20

Trent Stubbs ’20, who, with Furman Professor of Chemistry Greg Springsteen, has filed two patents and co-founded Aconobolics LLC after discovering a new way to produce molecules critical to emerging technology that rapidly diagnoses cancer and bacterial infections. Stubbs is now pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry at Emory University.

Defining experiences

Spencer Richardson

“Coming to Furman, I knew I wanted to be involved not only on campus but also in the community. I picked up tangible skills for a life in law, and we provided a much-needed service for the Upstate.” – Spencer Richardson ’20, University of Texas law student, interned with the Justicia Project in 2019, a legal clinical program that advocated for safer pandemic conditions in prison.

The Center for Engaged Learning oversees and facilitates high-impact, co-curricular opportunities. Reflecting on these experiences deepens students’ sense of purpose and prepares them for graduate school, professional school or the workforce. Traditionally, students learn firsthand during the summer what it means to provide care in a variety of health-related roles, engage with interdisciplinary topics and culturally relevant activities on study away May Experience – or MayX – programs, explore potential careers through internships, and conduct research on campus or remotely with Furman faculty and with other institutions. During Summer 2020, however, the Center for Engaged Learning pivoted, whenever possible, from in-person to virtual or hybrid internship and research experiences to maintain safe physical distancing measures. Students who would have participated in a canceled study away program will be given the opportunity to do so in 2021, depending on the state of the pandemic.

The Center for Engaged Learning also holds Furman Engaged – a day-long campus celebration of immersive learning experiences each April, allowing students to complete the last step of these experiences – the public sharing of their work. The 12th Annual Furman Engaged was to occur in April 2020, and would have been the largest to date with more than 700 students participating and 600 presentations. Furman instead held a Virtual Furman Engaged in which 211 students submitted over 100 presentations. Topics were limitless – from botanical mysteries in Guatemala to hip hop as a neighborhood healing agent in Medellín, Colombia, to the costs of confronting ageism. The program featured research poster presentations, senior thesis defenses, and musical and theater performances.


“I learned how to find the right time to do things and to keep pushing when times get tough. We went from making medical simulation products to making medical face shields. To me, that’s incredible.”

– HEATH HAWKINS ’20

Sales manager at Humimic Medical, where he interned while a student.

Internships near, far and virtual

The Internship Office also adjusted its focus to support remote and hybrid experiences for Summer 2020. To adapt to virtual internships, the Internship Office increased contact with employers and students, contacting every employer that was committed to a summer intern to ensure that the quality of the experience was maintained, along with meeting Furman’s expectations for health and safety. Despite COVID-19, more than 150 Furman students interned this summer throughout the Greenville, South Carolina, community as well as other parts of the country. From health care to high finance, students learned virtually, in-person, or some combination, integrating their academics with practical experiences. The students’ professional growth is marked by reflections on what they are learning, coaching from Internship Office staff and faculty advisors, and sharing experiences with their peers through facilitated virtual sessions.

This summer, the Internship Office collaborated with the Malone Center for Career Engagement, Alumni and Parent Engagement, and Mentoring and Advising offices to provide a series of webinars to assist students with optimizing their engaged learning experiences, networking with alumni to identify future opportunities, and honing their professional development. Sophomore Engaged, a job-shadowing program that has occurred in Greenville and Atlanta, will continue to virtually introduce rising sophomores to professional opportunities in business, media, nonprofits and performing arts this academic year, with help and support from Furman alumni and parents.

Five decades of study away

In 2019, Furman’s study away program reached its 50th year, a milestone that reflects its enduring role in developing students’ curiosity, self-confidence and readiness to live in a global environment. Over the decades, more than 70 countries and 12 states have hosted Furman students, and 40% of faculty have led a study away experience.

The global pandemic significantly affected students’ study away plans. In the Spring of 2020, Furman recalled 93 students and six faculty members, who returned to their homes within 10 days of the presidential proclamation on international travel. All international and domestic May Experience 2020 study away and Fall 2020 study away were also canceled. The study away program was set to have the highest number of MayX programs – 19 – and student participants – 321 – in its history.

But the Rinker Center for Study Away and International Education is resilient. The center contacted all of the affected students and faculty to identify future study away options and to seamlessly move students from Fall 2020 to either Spring 2021 or Fall 2021. Faculty and students are ready to pack up and go when conditions allow.

Haley Disinger ’20 (front, left) on Lake Izabal in Guatemala in July of 2019, with students and professors from several countries. Her botanical research was among the digital presentations of students’ engaged learning experiences highlighted during the virtual 12th annual Furman Engaged.

A new way to conduct research

Furman’s undergraduate research efforts in all disciplines have earned national prominence with support from the Office of Undergraduate Research and the Office of Integrated Research in the Sciences. Prevailing features of Furman’s research program are the breadth of participation across all disciplines, and the high quality of work that is produced, as reflected by the success rate of earning competitive federal grants, student/faculty coauthored publications in highly regarded, peer-reviewed journals across multiple disciplines, and national recognition of student and faculty excellence through numerous individual awards.

Before the pandemic, our undergraduate research program for summer 2020 was to have 280 student researchers working with more than 100 faculty mentors – 70 more students than the record-high in summer 2019. With the new safety measures, research shifted from on-campus to remote, and some projects were canceled – but Furman still retained 232 student researchers working with just over 100 faculty mentors, which represents more student research fellows than in any other year in the university’s history.

Suresh Muthukrishnan, professor and chair of the Department of Earth, Environmental, and Sustainability Sciences, researches how drones and GIS data can improve soil quality and crop productivity.

Suresh Muthukrishnan, professor and chair of the Department of Earth, Environmental, and Sustainability Sciences Department, researches how drones and GIS data can improve soil quality and crop productivity.

Faculty mentors adapted their projects to remote experiences, often by incorporating interdisciplinary methodologies outside their immediate expertise. An unforeseen benefit emerged – new virtual communities among research teams from differing departments and disciplines, as both faculty and students reached out to one another for advice and support for their evolving projects. Additionally, student fellows participated in a series of training modules – remodeled to be virtual – that were designed to help them understand the relevance of their research experience to their post-graduate plans, even if their career choice was unrelated to their summer project.

The success and agility of these measures illustrates the effectiveness of Furman’s individualized approach to working with each faculty director, program, student and parent.

87%
of the class of 2020 “strongly agree” that they had at least one professor who made them excited about learning.
80%
of the class of 2020 “strongly agree” or “agree” that they had an internship or job that allowed them to apply what they were learning in the classroom.
83%
of the class of 2020 reported having an engaged learning experience at Furman.
61%
of the class of 2020 participated in a semester-long or MayX study-away program.
Because this survey by Furman Assessment and Institutional Research was conducted online this year, the response rate was 59% instead of the customary rate of more than 90%.

An inside look

“The Opportunity Fair provided me with the space to make a personal connection with Mercer, which helped propel me to the next stage of interviews and ultimately strengthened my application – leading to an offer from my top-choice firm.” – Megan Rizzi ’20

“The Opportunity Fair provided me with the space to make a personal connection with Mercer, which helped propel me to the next stage of interviews and ultimately strengthened my application – leading to an offer from my top-choice firm.”
– Megan Rizzi ’20

In the Fall of 2019 and early 2020, the Paladin Career Treks program took about 100 students inside careers in public health, finance and banking, arts and communication, entertainment and sports, or advocacy and policy. Among the 15 organizations that participated in the treks were the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Bank of America, BrightHouse, CNN, the Tennessee Titans and the S.C. State House. Meanwhile, in the Fall of 2019, the Center for Engaged Learning, the Internship Office and the Malone Center for Career Engagement held the inaugural Opportunity Fair. The event gathered 45 organizations with a broad regional and national presence and drew 213 students, allowing students and alumni to learn about internship and career opportunities.

The support to succeed

For some members of the class of 2020, post-graduation plans were sidetracked as the economy contracted. Furman is helping these new grads and others make strategic use of this time. Our graduate studies program, offering master’s degrees in community-engaged medicine, education, chemistry and strategic design, positions students to build new areas of expertise, enhance their skills and knowledge, and get an edge on a strong career launch.

In response to COVID-19, the Malone Center contacted all graduating seniors to offer support with their post-graduation plans, advising over 200 seniors. The center also offers weekly meet-ups on topics such as job search strategies, interviewing and resume writing. In partnership with the Internship Office, the center facilitated a virtual program called “Standing Out as a Competitive Candidate Amid COVID-19” and collaborated with the Office of Mentoring and Advising and the Office of Alumni and Parent Engagement to develop an alumni mentor program for graduating seniors. At least 70 students have been paired with an alumni mentor. This year, the Malone Center’s career advisors served as liaisons to each of the academic departments. The result: The center doubled the number of students served through Career Advising Appointments.