Three years ago, Bowling Green State University boldly committed to changing undergraduate education through an initiative aimed at redefining student success in direct and measurable ways.
Support would extend beyond traditional advising and academic resources to fundamentally alter student experiences and outcomes.
Students would be equipped to navigate challenges, empowered to design their futures and graduate ready for their careers and lives.
Since 2020, Life Design at BGSU — strategically woven into the fabric of the University — has transformed students’ lives, garnered tremendous support and become a recognizable differentiator of student success.
“As a public university for the public good, Bowling Green State University is steadfast in its commitment to redefining student success for the 21st century,” said BGSU President Rodney K. Rogers. “Life Design empowers our students to gain the skills and tools they need to succeed in college, leverage the opportunities at a major comprehensive university like BGSU and ultimately be prepared for career and life."
Launching and growing Life Design
The groundbreaking program, modeled after the Life Design Lab at Stanford University, leverages design thinking principles to help students explore what they want to do and who they want to become while shaping their college and career journeys.
Life Design at BGSU began as a small pilot program in Fall 2019 with about 500 students. They learned to apply the concepts of life design in an array of curricular and co-curricular experiences that culminated in a three-day interactive workshop.
In early 2020, 60 BGSU faculty and staff members representing various departments and programs participated in an intensive, three-day life design training led by Bill Burnett, co-author of “Designing Your Life” and executive director of the Design program at Stanford University, and Chris Simamora, lecturer and fellow at Stanford.
The highly collaborative experience taught participants the key principles of life design and how to incorporate them into their work with students.
What followed was broad support for an initiative University leaders believed had the potential to reshape student experiences.
This initiative in Spring 2020 served as a soft launch of the Life Design program to about 150 students. The program officially launched in Fall 2020 with its first cohort of students.
Since then, Life Design has been introduced to nearly 4,000 students and has grown to include an executive director, a team of Life Design coaches, a student ambassador program and two donor-named spaces on campus dedicated to providing the support and resources necessary to continue elevating student success.
BGSU is the first university in the country to build a life design program of this magnitude available to all undergraduate students. It has drawn the attention of university administrators and educators across the country who are interested in creating similar programs at their institutions.
The scale at which BGSU can offer its Life Design program is largely due to transformative gifts totaling $13.5 million the University received in 2022 from alumni philanthropists Geoffrey Radbill ‘68 and Mike Kuhlin ‘68.
These generous gifts have allowed the University to expand its initiative and continue changing the higher education paradigm.
Life Design explained
Although it is one comprehensive program, Life Design includes two distinct components — college and life design and career design and connections — that represent the evolving needs of students as they make their way through college.
A student’s typical entrance into Life Design begins in BGSU 1910: Life Design at BGSU, a first-year seminar that meets for an hour once a week.
The class is taught by Life Design coaches, who introduce students to design thinking principles through engaging, hands-on activities. The goal is to equip students with critical problem-solving skills they can use in college and life.
Outside of class, Life Design coaches meet with students individually and support them as they navigate all aspects of their undergraduate journey.
Adrienne Ausdenmoore, a nationally known thought leader in life design principles and executive director of the Geoffrey H. Radbill Center for College and Life Design, said the dedicated support is a defining feature of the program.
“Students have found a lot of benefit in having someone on their team who is invested in them as a human,” Ausdenmoore said. “Life Design is not tied to a specific major or program. We are fundamentally here for the student and to help them figure out what is important to them and how to help them get where they want to go.”
Ausdenmoore joined the University in 2022 and has been instrumental in Life Design’s growth and in establishing BGSU as a national leader in life design.
Radbill Center opening
Among the program’s most recent expansions was the opening of the Geoffrey H. Radbill Center for College and Life Design in January 2023. A formal dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on Feb. 23, 2023, with President Rogers and Geoffrey Radbill, for whom the center is named, providing remarks. Radbill was joined by his life partner, Jan Kohn, who was instrumental in the vision of Life Design at BGSU.
“Life Design provides students with more than a degree and it is reshaping the undergraduate experience,” said President Rogers. “We are so grateful for the generous support from Geoff and Jan, who have elevated Life Design with a transformational gift that will support our students for decades to come.”
The newly renovated space on the third floor of the Mathematical Sciences Building in the heart of campus is designed to be inclusive, collaborative and welcoming to the entire campus community. It centralizes Life Design resources and services, ensuring students know where to find help and guidance.
“The Radbill Center is already fulfilling its purpose as a safe place for students to learn, collaborate, thrive and grow into their authentic selves, an opportunity for students to design their lives at BGSU and thereafter,” Radbill said.
Life Design provides students with more than a degree and it is reshaping the undergraduate experience. We are so grateful for the generous support from Geoff and Jan, who have elevated Life Design with a transformational gift that will support our students for decades to come.
- President Rogers
The Radbill Center promotes life design mindsets through its architecture, artwork and a mix of public and private spaces. Collaborative rooms are strategically located around the perimeter, available to students and used for one-on-one coaching.
Several nods to design thinking also exist throughout the space, including big, bold words “take action” and “be curious” displayed on the walls above seating areas.
The Radbill Center quickly became a base of activity shortly after its opening. Students are meeting with Life Design coaches, attending programming and using the space to gather between classes.
“It has been so rewarding seeing students already using collaboration spaces and stopping by to visit their Life Design coach,” said Gabe Dunbar, assistant director of the Radbill Center, who participated in the initial life design training in 2020 and was among the University's original team of Life Design coaches. “It’s exactly what we envisioned for this space.”
As students progress through their journey at the University and begin shifting their life design focus to career planning, they’ll be connected to a Career Design coach at the Michael and Sara Kuhlin Hub for Career Design and Connections.
The Kuhlin Hub aims to facilitate key introductions between students and industry professionals that lead to mentorship, co-ops, internships and fulfilling career opportunities.
Students can continue receiving support from their Life Design coach even as they explore their futures beyond BGSU.
Redefining student success
The real measure of the program’s success exists in the stories of the BGSU students who have experienced firsthand the Life Design difference.
As a first-generation student, I didn't feel like I belonged at college. But in the spirit of Life Design, I remind myself that everyone has their own journey. Life Design helped me find my place, and now I'm more confident than ever in my future.
- Devin Darr
Sophomore Devin Darr struggled with comparison during his freshman year, measuring what he perceived as success based on other people’s experiences.
The complexity of his physics and astronomy major and the challenges of being a first-generation college student at times made him question whether he was following the right path.
Through one-on-one support from his Life Design coach and using a design thinking skill called reframing, Darr is becoming more comfortable claiming his place in higher education.
Katie Hall enrolled at the University in 2021 from Buffalo, New York, with what she thought was her entire college career and future mapped out.
But the transition to college didn’t go as smoothly as she expected, and Hall said she began to feel lost and unsure of her degree choice.
She connected with her Life Design coach, who validated her feelings of uncertainty and supported her as she explored alternative degree options.
I thought I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and when I started to question that, my Life Design coach offered me crucial support and reassurance as I designed a new path forward. Life Design opened my eyes to many of the career possibilities out there, which was really influential when I chose my new major.
- Katie Hall
I have two very different passions, and Life Design at BGSU gave me the tools and confidence to design a future that included them both.
- Briyanna Moore
Honors College student Briyanna Moore wanted to pursue two different passions but needed help figuring out how to do so successfully.
Through her experience in Life Design, Moore learned design thinking supports a cohesive existence between career and personal aspirations with the notion that the journey to a successful career can follow many paths.
As a result, Moore has fulfilled her passion for studying abroad in South Korea while simultaneously making steps toward a career in healthcare.
As a meticulous planner, senior Nichole Hood began to struggle when she experienced some uncertainty surrounding her future and admission to graduate school.
The first-generation student had always dreamed of getting her doctorate degree in psychology and said she felt ‘stuck’ when her GRE scores weren’t as high as she had hoped.
Working with her Life Design coach, Hood began looking at her situation from another angle, referred to in Life Design as reframing.
Rather than letting her GRE scores stop her from moving forward, Hood is applying to graduate schools that waive the requirement - an increasingly common trend at universities across the country.
My dream has always been to get a doctorate degree, and when I hit some bumps along the road, I used what I learned in Life Design to overcome those obstacles and work toward making my dream a reality.
- Nichole Hood
The future of Life Design
The program’s first cohort of students is expected to graduate next year, which will provide the Life Design team with valuable information as the program continues to evolve and adapt.
“The design thinking process encourages exploration — try something and see what works and what doesn’t,” Ausdenmoore said. “In the same way that Life Design teaches our students to constantly explore and problem solve, we will continue adjusting our program to meet the ever-changing needs of our students.”
In addition to increasing engagement among students, Dunbar said the Radbill Center team is partnering with leaders across campus to strategically integrate Life Design into other facets of student experiences.
“We want to continue opening the doors and inviting more people to be a part of Life Design,” Dunbar said. “For this to become a truly campus-wide initiative, we need invested partners across the University. The goal is for Life Design to become a way of thinking, not simply a program students participate in.”
Ausdenmoore said Life Design has the momentum behind it to become a fixture in the lives of every undergraduate student at BGSU and accomplish its initial goal of transforming undergraduate education.
“We’ve already seen the tremendous impact of Life Design in its three short years of existence,” Ausdenmoore said. “I can only imagine the difference it will make over the next five years or throughout the next decade. More students will succeed in college and their careers because of Life Design at BGSU.”
Updated: 02/27/2023 01:58PM