By Brian Burnsed

These courses allow students to gain significant real-world experience before they graduate

It's not uncommon for students at the graduate level to make important contributions beyond the walls of their campuses while simultaneously engaging in their studies. Oftentimes research or entrepreneurial endeavors at Ph.D and M.B.A. programs are the conduits for this blend of learning and real-world experience.

However, an increasing number of undergraduate programs are letting their students apply their burgeoning skills in arenas outside the classroom. "Students do the best projects when they've got a tangible product or service they're dealing with," says Michael Goldsby, executive director of Ball State University 's entrepreneurship center.

"Sometimes undergraduates will look at abstract projects, but the practicality of their ideas isn't solid, and I think that hurts their learning. When they can deal with something real they can learn a lot more."

The following are a few examples of courses that allow undergraduate students to make a significant impact beyond the confines of their colleges, while honing skills that may one day be applicable to their careers.

1. Military 2 Market at Ball State:

The school has partnered with the nearby U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Center in an effort to commercialize military technology. The two-year program, available to the school's entrepreneurship students, allows them to get their hands dirty in the laboratory while forming business plans to commercialize these military innovations along the way.

Some of the notable projects include a synthetic skin that simulates real skin, which will be a practice tool for doctors and nurses, and a laser that can cut through steel that will help free people from car wrecks. Some students are even in the process of seeking venture capital funding in the hopes of turning the projects into viable businesses.

2. Congressional Districting: The Geography of Politics at Clark University:

Students learn about the congressional redistricting process with their professor Jim Gomes, who once worked for Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry. Students are asked for their input on various ways to redistrict the state of Massachusetts and have even played a role in public hearings on the subject.

3. Equipment Design at the University of Puget Sound:

This year, students were asked to design shoes for Crocs, Inc., best known as the makers of the multi-colored plastic shoes commonly seen on college campuses nationwide.

Once prototypes of the student-designed shoes were manufactured, the class tested them by doing experiments with runners and measuring foot-fatigue recovery time. If the testing is deemed to be a success, the shoes will be on the market in 2013. Another student-driven Crocs project is planned for the fall.

4. Highwire Brand Studio at Miami University -- Oxford:

Marketing and graphic design students, among others, have the opportunity to work with paying clients, essentially turning the program into a fully functioning marketing and branding agency. And these paying customers aren't merely local mom-and-pop operations. Last week, the school unveiled a new marketing campaign for snack food giant Pringles.

5. PR Lab at Arizona State University:

This fall, the university's Cronkite School of Journalism will begin offering a hands-on capstone project for its public relations majors. The lab is home to a fully functioning and student-driven public relations agency, dubbed V3 Communications, that will handle real-world clients' various public relations needs.

6. Human Rights / Human Wrongs at Franklin and Marshall College:

Under the tutelage of associate professor of government, Susan Dicklitch, a political asylum expert, students work in pairs to help individuals seek political asylum in the U.S.

After interviewing potential candidates for asylum, students work with an immigration lawyer to find evidence and ready documents integral to the case. Not interested in law school? No matter, as the class is available to any senior at the school.

7. Undergraduate research at Lewis University:

Students are working alongside their professors in the hopes of creating "self-cleaning materials" that could one day be used in hospitals, labs, and homes.

The research is focused on fusing antibacterial properties with everyday materials that tend to be havens for bacteria, such as doorknobs and countertops. The goal is to reduce the number of common infections like MRSA and salmonella in hospitals and in the home.

8. Volunteer Income Tax Assistance at the Villanova University:

While not a class, accounting students in the university's business school can hone their skills through volunteer work in which they prepare low-income individuals' and families' taxes free of charge. It's invaluable professional experience for undergraduate accounting students and has helped return more than $26,000 on 19 tax returns thus far this tax season.

9. Information Systems Application at Carnegie Mellon University:

Every year, seniors in the program build custom software systems for Pittsburgh nonprofits. The students meet with leaders of the nonprofits to get a better feel of what they'd need to make their organization more capable.

Students have written software that has helped the United Way track funding for after-school programs and that allowed the city to report and keep track of potholes, among others.

10. Organizational Website and Database Management at Eastern Connecticut State University:

Similar to the Carnegie Mellon students, ECSU students help make nonprofit organizations more efficient. Students design interactive databases that have helped small, local nonprofits like churches and shelters track funds, people, and contact information.

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10 College Classes That Impact the Outside World