Sam Rutherford Life Design Student
BGSU microbiology major Sam Rutherford learned valuable skills through Life Design that have helped him forge a new path after a difficult start to college. (BGSU photo/Haven Conn '22)

Life Design at BGSU: Student refuses to let first semester challenges define future

Sam Rutherford used design thinking principles to reframe perceived obstacles

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.

Sam Rutherford admitted that growing up, he didn’t prioritize school. His grades were mediocre, and his reputation as an apathetic student followed him from middle school to high school.

Then, during his junior year, Rutherford decided he wanted to go to college and began focusing on improving his grades.

His hard work and diligence paid off, and in Fall 2020, Rutherford was set to begin his college journey at Bowling Green State University — proud of his efforts to reach that point. 

But instead, he spent his first year logging into his classes virtually from his home in Fremont, Ohio, at the urging of his father and grandmother, who were concerned for his well-being and theirs amid a global pandemic. 

Rutherford said adjusting to college-level coursework in that environment was difficult, and he began falling into old patterns.

“I failed four of the six classes I took my first semester,” he said. “I was devastated. I knew I could have tried harder. I proved to myself I was capable of more during my last two years of high school. I felt like I failed myself and all the people who were supporting me in pursuing a college degree.”

The Life Design difference

Rutherford was introduced to Life Design during his first semester as a scholar in the University’s Academic Investment in Mathematics and Science (AIMS) Program.

The AIMS program is one of several campus partners that offers BGSU 1910: Life Design at BGSU to its cohort of students. 

The first-year seminar introduces students to design thinking principles — a creative problem-solving framework that provides students with the skills to overcome challenges and discover workable solutions to succeed in college and life.

Life Design at BGSU was launched in Fall 2020 to transform undergraduate education by providing students with extra support in addition to traditional advising and academic resources. BGSU is the only university in the nation offering Life Design on such a broad scale.

The program expanded in Spring 2023 with the opening of the Geoffrey H. Radbill Center for College and Life Design and the Michael and Sara Kuhlin Hub for Career Design and Connections. Although Life Design is one comprehensive program, these two centers represent its broad mission to respond to the evolving needs of students as they make their way through college.

Unsure of how to move forward, Rutherford sought help from David Denison, a Life Design coach at BGSU, who had presented to the AIMS students in one of their monthly meetings. Life Design coaches provide students with individualized support as they navigate all aspects of their undergraduate journey.

“Sam went out of his way to reach out to me directly in hopes of designing new goals and habits that would support his academic success and overall connectedness at BGSU,” Denison said. “I am so proud of Sam and his resilience. I believe his curiosity and ability to ask for support are two of the most important hallmarks of his success. He was able to bounce back after a challenging first semester because of his commitment to reflecting on and learning from his experiences and because of the ways he took action."

BGSU student posing in microbiology lab
Sam Rutherford worked with his Life Design coach to move past obstacles by reframing the situation, a core principle of design thinking. (BGSU photo/Haven Conn)

Reframing obstacles

Denison encouraged Rutherford not to let the experience of his first semester define his entire college career. Together, they reframed the situation, using one of the core principles of Life Design that aims to help students move past obstacles by looking at them from different perspectives.

“David helped me understand that I’m not anchored to my failures,” Rutherford said. “I can learn from my experiences and keep moving forward.”

After that realization, Rutherford said he recommitted to his educational goals. He’s taken 18 credit hours every semester, and still is planning to graduate in four years.

He started working in the lab of Dr. Paul Morris, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, to gain valuable research experience as a microbiology major. 

Rutherford also became a Life Design student ambassador in Fall 2022 and helps facilitate weekly BGSU 1910 courses. He considers that role among his proudest achievements at the University.

“I am so fortunate that with the help of Life Design, I was able to move past my failures and become a successful student at BGSU,” Rutherford said. “I’m happy that I can share my story with first-year students facing similar challenges and be an example to them to keep pushing forward.

“Failure is something you must move past, learn from and use as motivation to do better.”

Related Stories

Media Contact | Michael Bratton | | 419-372-6349

Updated: 06/23/2023 11:23AM