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Taylor Your Life: a Life Design + Changemaking curriculum

Following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Tulane University was the first comprehensive research university in the country to mandate two semesters of service-learning for all undergraduate students.  For more than a decade since the storm, students with an interest in social impact are drawn to the University, eager to make a difference through community engagement and learn how they can align academic interests with their desire to contribute help affect change.

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While students with an interest in social impact are drawn to Tulane, when asked what field they specifically want to enter or how they want to make an impact, most are at a complete loss.

The Phyllis M. Taylor Center for Social Innovation and Design Thinking was founded in 2014 to helps students identify their changemaking path. This university-wide center was launched off the foundation of a broad array of social innovation initiatives dating back to 2008. Through human centered design classes and workshops, students, are taught how to address problems optimistically, creatively, and quickly while turning them into inspiring “challenges”. These teaching process involves faculty, staff, and community members in a blended and innovative teaching model.

Enter the “lightbulb moment” when Taylor’s then Program Manager Julia Lang read “Designing Your Life,” and all the puzzle pieces began to come together.  She framed the question: how might we use a design thinking approach to help students explore and develop a changeamaking professional pathway? 

Lang dove into research and eventually created a five-week program, Taylor Your Life (TYL) (1.5 hrs/week) that drew on best practices and current trends in innovative career development curriculum, including: Designing Your Life (Burnett & Evans, 2016); How to Get Any Job (Asher, 2011); How to Land Your Dream Job Right Out of College by Networking Like A Rockstar (Patel, 2014); Radical Acceptance, a mindfulness text (Brach, 2014); The Power Of Meaning (Esfahani-Smith, 2017); You Are a Badass (Sincero, 2013), Net Impact’s Career Development Program for undergraduate and graduate students; the Echoing Green and Ashoka U award winning Transformative Action Institute, which has been used at over 50 campuses including Harvard, Stanford and UCLA, (Sherman, 2015),  and the Ashoka U award winning Work on Purpose curriculum.

Lang advertised the 5-week class, noting she would run the course if a minimum of eight students signed up. to her surprise, 25 students, ranging from first-year to PhD students, enrolled to participate in the free, non-credit program and Lang ran two sections in Fall 2016.

In Spring 2017, TYL expanded to an 8-week 1-credit curricular course. That spring, the Senior Associate Dean for Career Services, Amjad Ayoubi, got wind of the class and asked Lang to train interested advisors and career educators. 

In Summer 2017, eleven staff members completed a nine-week experiential training where they experienced the curriculum as students, while also learning how to teach future sections of the course. That summer, Lang fleshed out her curriculum making instructor guides and PowerPoints for the entire course, which instructors would use to teach their own sections.

In 2017/2018, 13 sections of TYL were offered (12 students/sections), reaching 156 students. Students kept telling their instructors that 8 weeks was not enough and that the workload requested from students surpassed a one-credit class.  

In Summer 2018, TYL transitioned from a 1-credit to 2-credit course, Lang developed a full online library with resources, guides, and PowerPoints for each class, Taylor hosted a 3-day training with 25 staff to build a pipeline of TYL teachers, and the TYL teaching team began experimenting with class structures, offering:

·       A summer section that met 3x/week for 1.5 hours for 5 weeks

·       A three-hour class that met 1x/week for 7 weeks,

·       A 1.25 hour class that met 1x/week for the full semester. 

·       Two 20-person classes with two instructors (vs 12 students/class in other sections)

·       A course geared for student athletes, taught by the Senior Academic Counselor for the Basketball and Football team.


Course History/Development

In 2018/2019, 24 sections are being offered, reaching 304 students from first-year students to PhD students.  

You can view our most recent assessment report here.

Several findings emerged a lot along the way, including:


·       Class Times and Structure

o   A three-hour class is too long.

o   Staff can only teach in the evenings, and this material is best taught in the day when students are more awake and alert.

o   1 hr 45 mins seems to be the sweet spot.

o   Music is crucial to change the energy of the class

o   Flexible class rooms with furniture on wheels is a must.

·       Diluted student population with scale: In the transition to two-credits, some students began enrolling just for the credits and had no interest in changemaking. As such, we have had to refine our approach and our vision of scaling the program. Our goal is NOT to reach every student at Tulane, but rather to reach as many students as possible who are interested or open to a changemaking professional path. 

·       Participants must have buy-in: the material requires one to be open, curious and vulnerable. We were asked to use this material for what we did not know was a mandatory staff training at another university. When students or professionals are open to the material, it can be transformative but when forced to be there, the material can completely flop. 

·       Most students love the class. Some hate it. All students are not used to being asked big, hard questions about meaning and purpose as it directly applies to one’s own professional path.

·       It takes a lot of time to scale a program and train instructors. We have had to reposition roles to support the growth of the program: based on the success of this program and its potential for continued growth, Lang was recently promoted to Assistant Director of Career Education at Taylor and over half of her role now involves training and supporting TYL instructors; selecting, hiring, approving, and overseeing HR functions for part-time career educators; refining the curriculum; monitoring the impact of courses and programs; and teaching. 

·       Instructors are “designing” their lives too! Training staff to teach the class has had an unforeseen ripple effect to not only have impact on students’ lives, but also the lives of professional staff. In our trainings, staff experience the curriculum first-hand, applying these mindsets to their own lives, while also gaining experience in the classroom working with students. as one staff member wrote after the summer 2018 training: ““My greatest takeaway is that design thinking can be applied to every area of life, at any age in life…I feel more encouraged and have more clarity about living a more meaningful life rather than simply dreaming about it. It allowed me to think about where I am, where I thought I wanted to go and pursue what I really want to become”


FREE Educational Resources for Universities interested in teaching changemaking life design

We are excited to announce that in February 2019, our Creative Commons Non-Commercial License cleared! To that end, we are thrilled to be able to share our resources with other schools who are interested in integrating life design. You can access our instructor guides, PowerPoints and all teaching materials at http://bit.ly/TYL_Library.

What’s next for TYL?  

Lang continues to work with Sr. Associate Dean Amjad Ayoubi to help further scale TYL at Tulane. Future iterations may include Taylor Your Tulane, (first year/second year/transfer students), TYL for Faculty and Staff, and TYL after Tulane (for alumni). 

In the meantime, we hope to continue to refine the curriculum, strengthen our teaching team and support more students in thinking about what they want for their own lives in their own communities, as one student wrote:

“[TYL] completely reframed my view of my future. Instead of blindly moving through college and going through the motions, I now know the steps I can take to end up in a career that I enjoy. Because of this class I have a more concrete idea of what I want to do in my future, both professionally and personally.”

Click here to learn more about Taylor Your Life at Tulane University