Little Big Town teamed up with the Country Music Association (CMA) on Monday (March 14) to unveil a new educational initiative. The CMA EDU program was conceived to help college students nationwide receive a hands-on opportunity to assist the Country Music Association in spreading the word about country music, while learning the different aspects of the industry and developing invaluable networking skills and relationships, as well as marketing and promotional experience.

"We heard about it because I'm on the CMA Board, and I just thought, 'Gosh, that's really exciting,'" Little Big Town's Karen Fairchild tells The Boot. "When we were at Samford University -- Kimberly [Schlapman] and I -- if we had an opportunity to have a community like this and to learn inside scoop about what to do and what not to do as you're coming up through the business, it might have saved us a lot of pain and agony. It's a really great and unique opportunity."

Nashville's Belmont University is serving as the inaugural campus, and CMA EDU currently has more than 115 members. The program will expand to other universities, and has already received interest from schools across Tennessee, as well as Alabama, Ohio and Virginia.

"We've had the opportunity to get into some events with artists and industry professionals to give us advice -- people who have been doing it all of their lives or doing it right now," says Belmont student Matt Self, who is interested in the management and booking side of the business. "It will help us succeed in the future to get a job in the music industry or the country music industry, specifically."

"The benefits [of the program] are definitely making your mark on the industry, getting your foot in the door," says Belmont student and CMA EDU member Kaitlin Askvig. "Networking in this industry is what you need to do. I think contacting the CMA would be the first step. They're very open and willing to listen."

The students will have a chance to hear from guest speakers and performers, to work at the CMA Music Festival during the summer and to learn about what goes on behind the scenes at the CMA Awards in the fall. Interested participants can contact the CMA via the organization's website.

"Because it's the first year, they're still going to be figuring it out, and the sky is the limit," Karen explains. "They're going to use these 115 students to do everything from being a test-marketing group -- artists can come in and play music for them. They can say, 'Hey, do you like my merch[andise]? Do you hate my merch?' They can use them how they want to. Then, for the CMA, we're here to further country music, so they'll be part of CMA Music Fest this summer as a street team, [and] part of the show in the fall doing the same thing -- promoting and marketing the show. Most of them want to be on the business side of it, so that's hands-on [experience] that you're going to get to put on your resume."

After a couple of days at home in Nashville, Little Big Town will return to the stage in Lima, Ohio, on Wednesday (March 16). For a list of Little Big Town's tour dates, click here.

*Pictured above, left to right, are Little Big Town's Phillip Sweet and Kimberly Schlapman, CMA Senior Coordinator of Partner Programs Sarah McGrady, CMA Vice President of Strategic Partnerships Sheri Warnke, CMA Board Member and member of Little Big Town Karen Fairchild, and Little Big Town's Jimi Westbrook.

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