USC Aiken’s Pacer Center serves local business community while preparing students for a competitive workforce

In March 2022, the University of South Carolina Aiken launched a hub for supporting the area's business community and growing workforce with the opening of the Pacer Center for Excellence in Business Research and Entrepreneurship (Pacer Center).

The purpose of the Pacer Center is to leverage the School of Business Administration's expertise in economics, finance, accounting, marketing, management and data analytics for enhancing the local and regional economy.

Pacer Center Executive Director Dr. Sanela Porca explains that, prior to the center's opening, the local community already relied upon the School of Business Administration for advice on economic growth and development issues. "We've done so many projects but never had a hub to bring all the work together," she says. "Just look at what is happening in our area with growth, job opportunity and workforce development needs. We needed a place to provide all of that related research for the local community."

A second mission of the Pacer Center is to put USC Aiken students in the best position for success in the workforce. The center provides a unique opportunity for students to engage in entrepreneurship, cutting-edge research and service.

Porca says, "We have to prepare our students for life after USC Aiken. By creating the Pacer Center and providing these research activities, we can better prepare them to dive into a business world that is competitive and ever-changing."

One of those students is Harshi Lodha Jain, an undergraduate student from India double majoring in psychology and business administration. Jain assists with data collection and strategy development while shadowing the faculty in their in-depth analysis.

Jain says, "My time working at the Pacer Center has helped me develop vital business environment research skills. Being a part of this team has allowed me to expand my network and connect with some truly fantastic individuals. Every day that I work there, I learn something new."

Jain has assisted Porca on multiple projects, such as the Newberry Opera House economic impact study and the USC Aiken economic and society impact study, the first research of its kind to underscore the importance of USC Aiken to the local community.

Student researchers also participated in development of the strategic plan for Johnston, South Carolina. Porca says, "These three projects have brought tremendous value to these communities and will help drive creative business thinking and foster future innovation. We are continuing to build business courses that will allow students to get involved with the Pacer Center's research and entrepreneurship opportunities."

In the future, Jain aspires to work with either a research and development or a business strategy and consulting team. The Pacer Center is preparing her for this step by providing experiences and skills that are essential for real-world business initiatives. "I have gained a comprehensive understanding of business operations, including research, planning and execution," she says. "Additionally, the center has exposed me to various challenges that businesses encounter in the real world, allowing me to develop problem-solving and critical thinking abilities."

The Pacer Center serves more than just business students, boasting a collaborative culture spanning disciplines campus-wide. Porca explains that many of the center's projects have research teams made up of faculty and students from multiple departments, including education, humanities, history, and visual and performing arts. She says, "We bring people who are experts in their fields to produce a product that is valuable to the community it is intended to serve. That is a strength of our center—we reach across the aisle to other colleges to be part of the team."

Looking ahead, the center plans to recruit additional researchers, create new scholarships and build partnerships that will provide students with learning opportunities that simultaneously support the economic growth of the CSRA and the state of South Carolina.

"When students participate in our programs, we provide them with high impact learning possibilities. It's more than just curriculum and a textbook; it's an additional layer of education for students to have while attending USC Aiken," Porca says. "Our students are amazing, talented and deserve this extracurricular opportunity to enhance their education."

For more information, contact Christen Engel, (803) 641-2825,