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Courses, coaches help students design meaningful career pathways

Sep 13, 2023

The Design Your Life and Career course workbook contains exercises and prompts that help students learn about themselves as t... The “Design Your Life and Career” course workbook contains exercises and prompts that help students learn about themselves as they explore career possibilities. Photo by Chris Meyer, Indiana University

While many students begin their college journeys with clear career aspirations, others are unsure of which direction to go. Some feel stuck in a career path they committed to early on but no longer feel strongly about. Others are searching for ways to manage stress, work-school balance and unforeseen challenges that could affect their schoolwork.

Two programs, one at IU Bloomington and another at IU Kokomo, demonstrate how Indiana University helps students across all campuses prepare for their futures in individualized, meaningful ways.

Students conduct research on themselves

“Design Your Life and Career” is an eight-week course, offered in 7 sections twice per semester by the College of Arts and Sciences Walter Center for Career Achievement at IU Bloomington. Approximately 700 students engage in the course each semester, which is open to students in any year of study. The course uses principles of design thinking to help students envision and customize their career pathways while preparing them to handle unforeseen changes in life.

Victoria Torres, left, and Hudson Pangan draw portraits of fellow classmates during the Walter Center's Design Your Life a... Victoria Torres, left, and Hudson Pangan draw portraits of fellow classmates during the Walter Center's “Design Your Life and Career” class at IU Bloomington. Photo by Chris Meyer, Indiana University

“We take basic design principles and the kinds of things that you do and think through when you are designing a product for an end user and apply them to the tricky question of ‘What do I want to do with my life?’” said Angela Lexmond, senior lecturer in the College of Arts and Sciences and instructor for the course.

Among other things, the course leads students through empathy research, a concept in which a designer will research the “end user” to completely understand a customer’s needs. In this case, students are the end users, and they are researching themselves. The product: a meaningful life and career.

Lexmond piloted “Design Your Life and Career” in 2022, modeling it after a popular course created by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans in the Life Design Lab at Stanford University. Burnett and Evans wrote a New York Times best-selling book on the concept called “Designing Your Life,” which is required reading in IU’s course.

Lexmond creates activities that encourage students to think about their identities and interests and to acknowledge how privilege or lack of privilege may have impacted their exposure to career possibilities. Students are also encouraged to take advantage of the Walter Center Success Network, a network of IU alumni who offer guidance to current students.

Instructor Angela Lexmond leads students through an empathy research exercise during a Design Your Life and Career class at I... Instructor Angela Lexmond leads students through an empathy research exercise during a "Design Your Life and Career" class at IU Bloomington. Photo by Chris Meyer, Indiana University

“Our commitment to each IU student is laser-focused on helping them succeed at IU and beyond,” said Julie Payne-Kirchmeier, IU vice president for student success. “Courses like ‘Design Your Life and Career,’ along with many other holistic and intentional student-centered initiatives, showcase our student-ready culture and bring this commitment to life.”

“Design Your Life and Career” is interactive, with an emphasis on creativity and idea generation. “Odyssey planning,” a concept from the book, is one of the students’ major assignments.

“Odyssey planning is basically pushing yourself to envision three very different possibilities for the way that your life could unfold in the next five years,” Lexmond said. “You start with the thing that you were thinking of doing anyway, and then you have to presume that that option is gone. What might you consider instead?”

Students then envision a second and third plan. They are encouraged to create the third plan as though there were no judgments or barriers, and they could pursue anything they wanted. Odyssey planning equips students with tools to handle change, and it helps them plan which clubs to join, courses to pursue, and internship or study abroad experiences to work toward based on their vision.

Nevaeh Harper and Carolyn Blank participate in an empathy research exercise during their Design Your Life and Career class at... Nevaeh Harper and Carolyn Blank participate in an empathy research exercise during their “Design Your Life and Career” class at IU Bloomington. Photo by Chris Meyer, Indiana University

After completing the odyssey planning, students participate in a career chat with industry professionals, and their final project is to create a personal life design story.

“We hope students will develop confidence in their own ability to become career ready and in their ability to tell their unique, unfolding stories,” Lexmond said.

Sophomore Sofia Harshbarger, a human biology major, is currently enrolled in Lexmond’s class.

“Growing up, I saw adults in my community have the same job their entire life, but they never seemed happy,” Harshbarger said. “While reading Chapter 2 of our book, I had a realization. Work should be fulfilling, and it is completely acceptable and common to switch your job or career.

“The class work in this course has forced me to think outside the opinions I’ve had my whole life. It’s made me think a lot about questions I haven’t ever reflected closely upon. It’s allowed me to expand my ideas on the purpose of college, life and my future career.”

Coaches lead students toward achievement

Students at IU Kokomo have the option for advice from professionals who support them throughout their academic careers and beyond.

Carole Ogle is in her eighth year of working as an academic success coach at IU Kokomo. She estimates she has coached approximately 200 students since joining the Academic Success Coach program, which is facilitated by the Office of Student Success and Advising.

“IU Kokomo Academic Success Coaches are trained in ‘IU Coaching Conversations,’ and we are fortunate to have ongoing training workshops,” Ogle said. “In our coaching encounters, we encourage students to reflect and process. We listen and help them discover ways to navigate challenges. Often students just need somebody to listen, and the process of discussion allows them to discover solutions on their own.”

Coaches help students determine their strengths and weaknesses, improve time management and stress management, and connect with campus resources. According to Ogle, some students need assistance finding housing, transportation and methods for dealing with food insecurity. Others need tools for balancing full-time work while also earning a degree.

Coaches will sometimes work with students even beyond graduation.

“I often work with students for two to three years,” Ogle said. “I met with one student during three years of undergrad study and throughout completion of her master’s degree.”

Britney Netherton, access services supervisor at the IU Kokomo Library, worked with an academic success coach during her undergraduate st... Britney Netherton, access services supervisor at the IU Kokomo Library, worked with an academic success coach during her undergraduate studies. Photo courtesy of IU Kokomo Library

Britney Netherton graduated with honors from IU Kokomo in 2021 with a BA in psychology. She now works at the school’s library as the access services supervisor.

Netherton said Ogle helped her face many challenges throughout her academic career, even helping her navigate life after her father passed away.

“I fully believe my time spent working with Carole helped me stay on track throughout my academic journey,” Netherton said. “My home life was not always stable, and as a result my grades would occasionally bear the burden. She helped me, not only to adopt better study habits, but also to compartmentalize. My work and studies can no longer suffer for things that are out of my control.”

She said she is at a crossroads academically as she thinks about pursuing a master’s degree and possibly a Ph.D. in the future. In the meantime, she said she is enjoying her work, and she encourages other students to reap the benefits of working with a success coach.

“Do not be afraid to ask for help,” Netherton said. “There were times I’d still have my visits with Carole even if I was having no issues academically. I found that having her as a resource was a large comfort. I would fully recommend students work with a success coach. Like the name implies, they are here to help you succeed.”

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IU Newsroom

Julia Hodson

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