The day after they met last week, new friends Lauren Rainwater and Mital Lyons-Warren were calling themselves Team “BAiken” – USC Aiken student Rainwater representing Aiken and Lyons-Warren, arriving from Suffolk University in Boston.

For the past three years, the colleges have participated in a Leadership Exchange program. A group of Suffolk students visited Aiken, and the USCA students will travel to Boston in late March.

Lyons-Warren noted with a smile that BAiken “is our celebrity name.”

“It's going to be a great opportunity to go to Boston,” Rainwater said. “I'll get the experience of seeing something different that I wouldn't see at home.”

The students from both colleges met last Friday with the prominent horseman, Cot Campbell; Jackson Middle School Principal Jason Holt; and City of Aiken officials.

The exchange program for student leaders emerged four years ago through the collaboration of Ahmed Samaha, USCA's assistant chancellor for student life, and David Deangelis, Suffolk's director of student leadership evolvement.

“This is a unique way to look at leadership topics through a cultural exchange,” Samaha said. “We've looked at different kinds, and this time it's transformational leadership.”

During the visit to Jackson Middle School, Holt discussed how he grew up in Aiken, attended USCA and taught at the school before becoming a South Aiken High School assistant principal. Last fall he returned to Jackson as the principal.

“I have the best job in the world,” Holt said. “I get to impact young people every day.”

The college students had a great time at the school – cheerfully competing against eighth-graders by creating a rocket from paper, tape and a straw. The younger kids had fun, too – not fully realizing they were working on math and history.

During the first year of the program, students from both colleges studied public education and information about their states. The topic was environmental justice in 2013, said Sam LaMunion, USCA's student government president.

“It's great to meet students from other parts of the country,” he said.

Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.