Life Design at BGSU: Sophomore credits University initiative with helping her discover a degree aligned with her career, life goals
Aimed at redefining student success, Life Design was a formative step in Katie Hall's journey to finding the right major
My success here matters, and the University truly wants to do everything possible to help with that.
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.
Bowling Green State University student Katie Hall arrived at college – like many students – with a major declared and her future carefully planned.
She decided early in high school that she wanted to become a speech pathologist and didn’t waver in that decision.
But not long after the Buffalo, New York, native began classes at the University in Fall 2021, she said things suddenly didn’t seem as certain. She struggled with the transition to college and began to question her degree choice.
“I honestly felt very lost when I first got here,” said Hall, just 17 at the time. “I didn’t know anyone, which was tougher to navigate than I thought. Then, I started to feel trapped. Speech pathology was a very secure degree, but I didn’t know if it was right for me anymore.”
Hall credits Life Design at BGSU – an initiative at the University aimed at redefining student success – in helping her discover a degree that more closely aligns with her personal and professional aspirations.
She said the journey began in the program’s first-year seminar, BGSU 1910: Life Design at BGSU.
“I became a lot more self-aware in that class,” Hall said. “I started to understand more about my goals in life and what I wanted out of a career.”
The one-hour weekly course – just one facet of the Life Design program – connects students with a Life Design coach and introduces them to design thinking.
Design thinking is a creative problem-solving framework that provides students with the skills to overcome challenges and discover workable solutions.
‘My success here matters’
Hall said the first meeting with her Life Design coach, Gabe Dunbar, was transformative. It signified to her the University’s deep commitment to student success and marked the beginning of her finding her place and a crucial support network at BGSU.
“We walked around campus and talked, and I could tell he’s really here for his students,” she said. “It meant a lot to me to know that I’m not just a number. My success here matters, and the University truly wants to do everything possible to help with that.”
Life Design at BGSU provides students with extra support in addition to traditional advising and academic resources. The initiative is designed to help students graduate in four years or less, minimize student debt and create a well-established career network.
While students’ individual paths through Life Design are unique, the process is intentionally designed to help students build a toolkit to navigate the challenges they encounter to succeed in college and life.
Defining a path forward
As Hall grappled with the uncertainty of her major, she began integrating design thinking into her decision-making processes.
She explored alternative degrees and, with the help of Dunbar, uncovered an obstacle she said had been holding her back.
“The scariest part of changing my major was this feeling of having to pick a new career right now,” Hall said. “Gabe helped me realize that your major does not directly equal your career for the rest of your life. I knew I wanted a meaningful career that would make a difference in people’s lives, and I felt for a long time that my degree had to be something as specific and direct as speech pathology to achieve that."
Dunbar, a Life Design coach since 2020 and now assistant director of the Geoffrey H. Radbill Center for College and Life Design, said the feelings Hall was experiencing are common among students and often a significant source of stress and self-doubt.
“I always start and end my class by explaining to students that it’s OK not to know what they want to do with the rest of their life,” he said. “Normalizing that was really important for Katie. She was able to give herself some grace and become more comfortable with not knowing.”
Aside from helping students understand how to use design thinking as a problem-solving tool, Dunbar said Life Design provides them with the environment to feel confident and secure in their decisions.
“Using design thinking does not necessarily mean you’re going to figure everything out right now, but students will be more creative and confident in decisions about their future," he said. "Katie had the ability within herself to find her path forward. Life Design just helped unlock that.”
Hall is now pursuing a bachelor's degree in business administration with an economics specialization in the Allen W. and Carol M. Schmidthorst College of Business.
It’s decidedly different from her original speech pathology major and offers a broader career outlook, but she said she’s excited about the future.
“I may not know exactly what I’m going to do after college, but I’ve learned to settle into that discomfort and be comfortable with things that aren’t certain,” she said. “Life Design opened my eyes to many of the career possibilities out there, which was really influential when I chose my new major. A big part of the Life Design mindset is that you’re an active player in your own life, and you must make a concerted effort to work toward where you want to be in your life.
"Life Design really pushed me to be an active participant in my own happiness.”
Updated: 04/17/2023 02:51PM