Life Design at BGSU: First-generation student uses design thinking processes to reframe perceived obstacles, navigate challenges along college journey
Devin Darr finds support and a sense of belonging through Life Design, the University initiative helping students shape their path to success by connecting them to the right resources
By Laren Kowalczyk '07
This is an ongoing series on the impact Life Design has on students and how it is reshaping undergraduate education at BGSU.
Devin Darr considered himself a curious child growing up, never willing to limit the possibilities of what he could achieve.
He remembers being fascinated by facts about space and planets. That interest grew deeper after taking physics in high school and heightened further when a friend gifted him an old telescope.
“I’m really interested in studying star formations, the wonders of black holes and exoplanets,” Darr said. “Receiving the telescope really sparked that curiosity.”
“Physics is extremely challenging,” he said. “It’s kind of ironic because I’m not the best at math, but it’s definitely something I’m curious about. And when I finally get over the frustration and start to understand what all the numbers and letters mean, it’s really interesting.”
Interested in space from a young age, Devin Darr is an amateur astrophotographer and took this photo of the moon.
Darr says the complexity of his degree and the challenges of being a first-generation college student at times made him question whether he was following the right path.
“I’ve been told that it’s common for first-generation students to go through a process of feeling like an impostor,” he said. “I’m definitely falling in and out of that, but BGSU is helping me to push through it.”
Design thinking process
One of the ways Darr is becoming more comfortable claiming his place in higher education is through reframing, part of the design thinking process he learned in Life Design - an initiative at BGSU that is changing undergraduate education.
Life Design at BGSU provides students with extra support in addition to traditional advising and academic resources. Life Design coaches help students make connections, jump-start their careers and promote the critical thinking skills necessary to navigate problems and discover workable solutions.
The initiative aims to have students graduate in four years or less, minimize student debt and create a well-established career network.
“Life Design allows us to help students choose and shape their own path by connecting them to the right resources and information,” said Adrienne Ausdenmoore, executive director of the Geoffrey H. Radbill Center for College and Life Design. “Not everyone comes to college with every tool they need to make it to graduation. Life Design is here to teach students how to adapt and navigate through the challenges they encounter to succeed both in college and life.”
Reframing and breaking barriers
Darr’s introduction to Life Design began in BGSU 1910: Life Design at BGSU - a first-year seminar that connects students with a Life Design coach and introduces them to design thinking skills to maximize their college experience and enhance career readiness.
Students of all backgrounds, ability levels and majors can enter Life Design at any point during their college experience. Beyond academics, Life Design also emphasizes students prioritizing the mental, physical and financial well-being of themselves and others.
Through his experience, Darr said he can now reframe dysfunctional beliefs in a way that allows him to overcome perceived obstacles. Dysfunctional beliefs are described in the book “Designing Your Life” by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans as myths that limit people from living the life they want.
Burnett and Evans’ book centers on the principles they teach in the Life Design Lab at Stanford University, which serves as a model for the Life Design program at BGSU.
In addition to working through feelings of impostor syndrome, Darr has used reframing to adjust his mindset on his educational journey and future aspirations. Darr said he struggled with comparison during his freshman year, measuring his success based on other people’s experiences.
“When I got to college, I felt like I had this fixed plan I had to follow,” he said. “But in the spirit of Life Design, I remind myself that everyone has their own journey. I don’t need to have my whole life planned from now until graduation, but I should know if I’m going in the right direction. I use those reframe methods to keep pushing forward and moving past any barriers I face.”
Life Design: A resource gateway
Darr says Life Design has been a gateway to the numerous resources and opportunities available at the University, many of which he was unaware existed.
Among the most impactful was learning about the Thompson Working Families Scholarship Program.
The topic of scholarships came up in a meeting between Darr and his Life Design coach, David Denison, who inquired about how Darr was doing academically and in life.
“It’s been such a relief not to have to worry so much about the financial side of college, and it all happened because of a simple conversation with David,” said Darr of receiving the Thompson Working Family Achievement Scholarship.
Darr’s connection with Denison has expanded over the last year, especially as they both recently mourned the loss of close family members.
“It means a lot to me that I’ve been able to connect emotionally with David and the other Life Design coaches,” he said. “They’re not just academic coaches; they’re life coaches.
“I have a supportive group of people within Life Design who ground me and remind me that I can succeed, and when I start to doubt that, I have the knowledge and tools to keep moving in the right direction.”
As a sophomore, Darr is a Life Design ambassador and helps facilitate weekly classes with a Life Design coach. He shares his story with the students and focuses on vulnerability.
“I embrace the fact that it’s OK not to be OK,” Darr said. “To share that vulnerability is one of the most valuable things to me. I want them to know that I understand their feelings coming into college.
“Now that I have a sense of belonging, I want to help them achieve that too. I hope I make some difference in their first-semester experience.”
Updated: 02/03/2023 12:08PM