Collisions in College to Career
When I was an undergrad at Mount Holyoke College, I signed a piece of paper declaring a traditional major, but I couldn't have felt more misplaced at that moment. I despised having to be assigned a pre-formed label and nomenclature to my multiple passions. I always wanted to connect the dots, mesh the otherwise separated, and swim. Subversive thoughts were broiling inside of me. From there, I designed my own major, synthesizing the overlapping impulses between visual studies, media studies, performance art, and educational technology which I called Critical Studies in Media Arts. Like several students who pursue undergraduate liberal arts degrees, I intentionally studied a multitude of academic disciplines rather than narrowing my focus in a few different areas. Shortly after graduation, instead of finding a full-time job, I decided to head straight into pursuing my master’s degree in Learning, Design, and Technology at Georgetown University. Ever slowly but surely, all too familiar the haunting question starts to boil up,“So what are you going to do with your studies?”
This question is tightly wrapped around career discernment and employability especially for those liberal arts college students who are experts in formulating unexpected disciplinary collaborations. They are experts in their connective and diversifiable agility in their learning and creating while taking non-linear pathways susceptible to modularity, re-direction, and ambiguity. But in a workable sense, how might students justify the outlines of their own pathways while colliding against practical hiring structures?
How might college students who have taken lateral explorations in their academic careers market themselves for future employability?
Opportunity for Design
Dr. Lynn Pasquerella, Former Mount Holyoke President and current AAC&U President speaks to “the need to connect curriculum to career,” and that executives and hiring managers deem liberal arts college graduates very well equipped to apply collegiate learning to the workplaces. Rigorous studies in diverse disciplines that these students are undertaking are not siloed engagements, but a connected endeavor. Even still, there’s a gap in how students are actually narrating the relevancy of their degree.
“There has been a disconnect, especially in liberal arts institutions. The notion was that higher-ed provided this pastoral retreat to reflect on larger questions separated from the practical matters of everyday life. We're now seeing the need to connect curriculum to career to ensure the liberal education our students are receiving can be applied to real world problems." - Hallie Busta, Senior Editor for Higher-Ed Dive
At Desklight we pursued this problem while engaging in human-centered design approaches around this opportunity for design. This included interviewing college students and college career center executives, prototyping 3 versions of the learning design, and research on what innovative work already exists to localize our design in the space of career pathway navigation. The Stanford Life Design Lab already uses design thinking by tackling what they call, “‘wicked’ problems of life and vocational wayfinding” in their Designing Your Life course and workshops. In what ways might we catalyze this vein of effort to help college students seeking employment cross that bridge from collegiate experience to career through the journey of pathway storytelling?
How might we guide students' in their own humanized storytelling of connecting college to career?
In the spectrum of different learning accountability measurements, we find institutions go from quantitative heavy assessments (i.e. standardized tests, stackable credentials, badging) to more qualitative heavy experiences (i.e. portfolios, capstones, high impact learning experiences, etc.) Efforts connecting college to career are prominent on the left side of the spectrum, and so our curiosity lies within asking what more could be done on this qualitative side.
Through primary interview research, key questions arise around the need to communicate one’s pathway in both the reflective and action-based natures.
The Design Explained
We came up with an interactive activity called My Personal Operating System that would help students begin to articulate and justify their formative collegiate experiences. In this example My Personal Operating System was targeted at the purpose for creatively preparing students for job interviews as a way into shaping pathway storytelling.
How it works:
Students begin by considering their whole collegiate journey (i.e. learning, extracurriculars, community involvements, personal growth, setbacks, etc.). They are presented with a set of introspective questions about their own personal experiences and environmental questions about cultural and conditional experiences. From these two categories, they choose a few questions they would like to answer.
The next part of My Personal Operating System asks students to do an “experience download” by answering their selected questions in the form first their past and current states (What have your experiences been up until now?), and then their imaginational, wishful future state (What might this version look like if you were to stretch yourself, weren't limited, and knew you were set up to have fun and succeed?).
As students move through the system, they eventually reach the “Applications” part of the system in which they are given practical common interview questions to practice. But in order to prepare for these questions, they must play with their downloaded experience data. This involves dragging their favorite answer cards into the “processing bars” that rephrase common interview questions in a more emotionally-charged way. It became essential to us to ask how we could evoke a more humanized and personal version of student applicant responses that straight-up metrics-based answers can’t narrate.
Eventually students get to select a shape (i.e. a sailboat, a rubik's cube, a garden) on the frame to drag and place their processed answers into that metaphorically symbolize their journey of their experience downloads. For example, if a student chooses the shape of a boat, they then start to build their narrative that speaks to different aspects of their chosen structure which might include their foundational experiences, navigational influences, and horizon-line goals.
For advanced play, students are asked to construct their own metaphorical shape that is introspectively personal and unique.
At the final “Interfacing” stage of My Operating System, students then begin to shape how to interface their constructions outwardly. Here, they select and drag a sample common interview question they want to practice. Considering their unique metaphor, they creatively craft how you talk about their professional experiences and ambitions while making sure to account for key touchstone points of story, metrics, and impact.
Outcomes and Future Potentialities
My Personal Operating System takes typical interview questions and processes them into uniquely shaped answers through a scaffolded facilitation of students’ explorative collegiate journeys. It's not that applicants would necessarily explicitly reference their metaphorical shape to a hiring manager, but that this system is a creative tool for their own applicant preparation in a human-centered way. Meanwhile the system is flexible enough as a non-linear tool that affords for “re-routing,” in which the students can redirect and input/output different downloads, applications and processing of their personal data. In this way, students are prototyping their own narrations temporarily through different past, current, and future narrative versions as well as illustrative sense-making.
Through using metaphor and play, tactile download and processing, and visual versioning and visioning of their experiences, students have a personalized frame of reference they can agilely narrate from a handle of all their data that is uniquely their own.
There’s space for utilizing much of the institutional work that has been done already to directly credentialize learning goals with industry skills, but now in a more richly humanized sense. Vehicles of storytelling and design-thinking create intricate opportunities at this intersection of explorative education and employment. While this example tool was designed for job interview preparation, My Operating System could ideally become a branded collection of tools and exercises for various career applications, perhaps customized down to specific industry correlations. The potentiality in this would excitingly call for collaboration between learning designers, career advisors, industry experts, and students in further prototyping of this system.