Clemson ’55 Exchange engages students in running a business

Serving ice cream from the ’55 Exchange are Clemson students Kay Senn from Lakeland, Florida; Micah Floyd from Charlotte, North Carolina; and Helen Ballew from Charlottesville, Virginia. Image Credit: Denise Attaway / Clemson University

CLEMSON — Clemson ice cream has been tantalizing taste buds since the 1920s. Available in the student-run ’55 Exchange store on campus in the Hendrix Student Center, it’s also helping prepare students to become successful business professionals.

At ’55 Exchange students design, manufacture, sell and serve ice cream, shakes, coffee chillers and smoothies. Other Clemson products, such as blue cheese, T-shirts and more, are sold in the store as well.

Johnny McGregor, a professor of food, nutrition and packaging sciences and the lead adviser for the ’55 Exchange, said students who work there are “way ahead of their peers” when it comes to real-world experience.

“This operation is totally 100 percent student-run,” McGregor said. “We have students who are involved in management positions, as well as production and retail positions. We have students who are shift supervisors, associates and every other position that is needed to effectively run the enterprise.”

Made possible by a gift from the Class of 1955, the entrepreneurial center is totally self-supporting. Funds generated from sales pay for the lease and utilities, as well as pay the staff, which usually is between 15 and 25 students.

“The store is very unique in the way it operates,” McGregor said. “The students do it all. They run the retail and manufacturing operations, work with suppliers and make sure the business meets food safety standards.”

An example is a food safety plan prepared by students in December 2016. It meets the Food and Drug Administration’s new Food Safety Modernization Act and includes a company overview; a hazard analysis; and an outline of preventive controls for issues relating to processing, allergens, sanitation and the supply chain. The food safety plan also includes a recall plan and implementation records and forms.

The plan was designed as a guide for other startup businesses and can be downloaded through the Clemson Cooperative Extension website. Students also have helped develop a production training manual, instructions for the care of Clemson Blue Cheese products and more.

Two students, Sam Lopane of Charlotte, North Carolina, and Kinsey MacDonald of Lexington, said working in the ’55 Exchange has given them the experience they will need for their careers in the food industry.

“As an intern for the ’55 Exchange, I gained a greater understanding of how the food science field actually works — not just head knowledge and facts from a classroom, but real understanding that comes from in-person experience,” Lopane said. “Crisis management, time sensitivity and critical decision-making can’t be taught in a classroom, but I learned all of these things through my responsibilities at the ’55 Exchange.”

MacDonald said being a production manager for the ’55 Exchange has allowed her to gain experience and knowledge she wouldn’t have gotten had she not worked in there.

“Being the production manager at the ’55 Exchange has taught me so much about myself and how to approach certain situations,” MacDonald said. “I have learned that I have a very strong personality and when I set my mind to something, I am very focused and I tend not to stop until I get the project done. These character qualities serve me well, but as a manager, I have learned that I often need to slow down and include others in decision-making and the actual execution.”

Clemson ice cream at '55 Exchange

Clemson ice cream at ’55 Exchange

That work experience is what Jean Bertrand, associate dean for undergraduate studies in the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences (CAFLS), said is special about the ’55 Exchange.

“The ’55 Exchange is an outstanding example of how CAFLS offers students the opportunity to learn beyond the classroom,” Bertrand said. “A lot of learning takes place when students are given the opportunity to put their knowledge and ideas into practice. We commend Dr. McGregor for executing his vision for this outstanding student learning opportunity. CAFLS is very proud of the ’55 Exchange.”

Students involved in the program will get even more experience this fall when an Ice Cream Innovation Lab comes to Newman Hall. McGregor said this new lab will help Clemson students make a major impact on the frozen dessert industry by giving them more research experience, such as in developing new ice cream flavors. The Ice Cream Innovation Lab was designed by students who also oversaw the project.