Life Design at BGSU: Kuhlin Hub leader to ‘open new doors’ for students through meaningful career exploration, measurable support
Steve Russell brings a decade of experience helping students establish crucial career connections
By Laren Kowalczyk ‘07
Steve Russell understands the value connections can play in future success.
Building relationships has been at the center of his life and career, from his early years as an undergraduate at the University of Wyoming to his notable rise as a leader in higher education.
Russell’s experience elevating undergraduate student success stretches over a decade and includes founding and leading a center at his alma mater dedicated to helping students establish crucial career connections.
Russell is forging a similar path for students at Bowling Green State University as the inaugural assistant vice president and executive director of the Michael and Sara Kuhlin Hub for Career Design and Connections.
The Kuhlin Hub for Career Design and Connections, part of the University’s Life Design ecosystem, will provide students with meaningful career exploration opportunities and help them establish connections that can open new doors to their future.
“Connecting students to alumni, corporate partners, entrepreneurs and other external stakeholders offers an opportunity to test out what a future career might look like and ultimately help students become part of the powerful BGSU network," he said. "The Kuhlin Hub will be an incredible resource as students envision their lives beyond BGSU."
Value of connections
Russell’s career in higher education began at Purdue University’s Center for Professional Selling and laid the foundation for his future success.
He led the university’s newly established sales center to increase its corporate partnerships by 40%, managed student sales competitions and developed mutually beneficial partnerships between the university and corporations.
Russell’s success at Purdue garnered the attention of his former instructor and associate dean of the College of Business at the University of Wyoming, who invited him to return to his alma mater for homecoming in 2014.
“Again, that connections piece is important,” he said. “What I thought was just another connection, an opportunity to visit and catch up, was more of an interview.”
By the start of 2015, Russell had moved back to Wyoming to serve as director of marketing and external relations at the University of Wyoming. In that role, he engaged with numerous external university stakeholders and realized the benefit those connections could provide students.
“It ultimately came to a point where we realized there were opportunities for these connections to influence curriculum, and the expectations the industry was setting needed to be communicated internally to students,” Russell said.
That was when the concept for the University of Wyoming Student Success Center began taking shape. Russell said what started as an idea on a sticky note evolved into a $3.5 million privately-funded physical space with 11 employees and engagement with more than 1,100 business students.
Russell served as assistant dean of the University of Wyoming College of Business and director of the Student Success Center simultaneously from 2019 to 2022.
“One of the biggest impacts of the Student Success Center was an increase in career self-efficacy among students,” Russell said. “Students had a clearer idea of the kinds of careers they wanted to pursue after engaging with the center and had the tools and connections to get there.
“They were more confident in the process, understood how to test their ideas and had more people to talk to inside and outside the university about reaching those goals. At BGSU, there’s an even greater opportunity to elevate student success with the Radbill Center for College and Life Design and Kuhlin Hub for Career Design and Connections working together to support students."
The Kuhlin Hub for Career Design and Connections
The Kuhlin Hub for Career Design and Connections aims to facilitate key introductions between students and industry professionals that lead to mentorship, co-ops, internships and fulfilling career opportunities.
Alumnus Mike Kuhlin ‘68 made a transformative gift in 2022 to support Life Design, allowing the University to continue changing the higher education paradigm and establishing BGSU as the first university in the country to offer Life Design on such a broad scale.
The unprecedented gift established a commitment to career design and connections, supporting an innovative approach to career planning and student success in the Kuhlin Hub for Career Design and Connections.
“I’m very proud our support is serving to launch the University’s career design and connections initiative, one that will directly and measurably contribute to student success,” Kuhlin said at the public gift announcement in 2022.
Kuhlin formerly served on the board of directors of the BGSU Foundation and has been an avid supporter of the University.
Journey through Life Design
Most commonly, a student’s track through the Life Design program will begin with the Geoffrey H. Radbill Center for College and Life Design.
Students will work with their Life Design coach to create a blueprint of their ideal college experience and will learn fundamental design thinking skills to help them navigate any obstacles they encounter along the way.
As students progress through their journey at the University, the Kuhlin Hub for Career Design and Connections — located on the second floor of the Bowen-Thompson Student Union — will aid them in aligning their interests with future career opportunities.
The Radbill Center for College and Life Design and the Kuhlin Hub for Career Design and Connections will work in concert to further the University's mission of redefining student success as part of its strategic plan, Forward.
“Our goal is to create an ever-growing network of external partners that is representative of what life after college looks like,” Russell said.
Russell said the Kuhlin Hub for Career Design and Connections will offer students the resources and support to explore career opportunities purposefully. One way he plans to do that is through prototyping experiences.
A prototyping experience is a concept that stems from design thinking where a student tests out a hypothesis. It could be as simple as a phone call between a student and alumni discussing a particular field of interest, but it also could include job shadowing or in-person simulations connecting a student to a specific company or industry.
“I want to create prototyping experiences that help students swiftly move along in their career exploration journey,” he said. “Whether those experiences lead a student further down their original path in a more meaningful and persistent way or cause them to pivot, it’s an important step in their development.”
Along with career exploration, Russell said a key focus of the Kuhlin Hub for Career Design and Connections will be developing corporate partnerships. These partnerships will allow BGSU students to become “in-network” with large organizations, thus helping students increase their likelihood of being considered for “in-network” positions.
He said roughly 80% of those job openings are not publicly visible to those outside the organization’s network. As a result, students and especially underrepresented students are at a significant disadvantage.
“Many job opportunities are only accessible by people who are ‘in-network,’” Russell said. “We want to help our students get there as a way to open up their opportunities significantly.
“When BGSU can help an underrepresented student make the connection and tap into a network, we significantly increase that student’s ability to earn a successful job, which is a key way to break down equity barriers for students that have and continue to exist.”
Updated: 04/27/2023 08:00AM