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How to share the design journey – and lead change – within your college

Storytelling insights from the Education Design Lab’s community college partners
By Stephanie Ogilvie Seagle, Education Design Lab Communications Director

Before we get into it, I need to say up front: Thank you.

Thank you for being an innovator.

Only innovators – the curious intrapreneurs, the courageous change agents – would read a story like this one.

I know how hard and messy innovation can be at a community college, because I’ve been there.

No matter my job, I’ve always tried to lead through ideas … to use creativity for the greater good. Which is why we wrote a grant that brought Education Design Lab to Virginia Western Community College in Roanoke, Va. I considered our work with the Lab as a professional development opportunity, so we could practice design thinking together – and keep students at the heart of our decisions.

In 2019, the Lab led us through a design challenge focused on stackable credentials in healthcare. I was the grant specialist who coordinated the work between our college and the Lab. I helped with the on-site logistics for each design session – (critically including lunch!) – but my most important role was communicating to the rest of the college. No one asked me to tell our story as it was happening. I was just excited to share our adventure because I believed so much in its potential.

Looking back three years later – now as the Lab’s communications director – I see how essential storytelling is to change of any kind. This is how we learn … how we connect. Paul LeBlanc, president of Southern New Hampshire University (and one of my favorite higher ed innovators), believes we lead through storytelling. In his latest book, Broken, LeBlanc writes:

“Stories – the ones we tell and the ones we collect– are the single most powerful tool we have as leaders. Stories are how we think. They do not come after the work; they are the work.”

YOU can lead and influence through storytelling, too.

Layering communications: ‘Multiple times, multiple ways’

During two Lab convenings this past year, I asked some 30 community college innovators this question: How do you share information internally at the college? What is most effective?

In true Lab fashion, our partners shared their answers through colorful, anonymous sticky notes.

Almost all of the answers clustered into the categories below. But one of the most insightful responses came from a BRIDGES Rural partner during our gathering in Finger Lakes, N.Y. The sticky note simply said, “Multiple times, multiple ways.”

Emails might get ignored. Someone could miss a key meeting. Instead of choosing just one method or event to share your change initiative, consider layering your communications, like a lasagna.

Multiple times, multiple ways.

Here’s where to start:

Layer #1: Share stories through a blog … or at least by email.

In my study of innovation over the years, I’ve learned both organizations and individuals have a greater chance for success if they build from their strengths. My 15-year career at a daily newspaper made writing natural, so with encouragement from my manager, I documented our design journey through blog posts. I started with an enthusiastic introduction where I ranked my excitement level at “Buddy the Elf.” I wrote in first person, which helps make updates more conversational and story-like — a departure from so many official communications. Most importantly, I shared blog links in the college’s weekly email to all employees. I wanted my posts to get seen on a regular basis.

Yes, blogging can be a major investment of time, but consider some big benefits:

  • A blog not only helps you reflect on learnings as you go, but it also involves everyone who might be curious. This is key to culture change – and can help the ideas radiate beyond the core design team. I made sure my blog posts included ways readers could get involved, even if it was just to ask questions.
  • Visibility = trust. The more frequently your colleagues see and hear about your design journey – challenges and all – the more likely they will help it succeed. Transparency and visibility helps build trust … and makes you more approachable.
  • Staff changes have become common on many community-college design teams – a blog could help document your progress so new team members can get up to speed.
  • If your blog is public, then the Lab can amplify through our national communications channels. We would love to feature your journey on our website and in our email newsletter … just email me! This is how our Innovator Network learns together.

An alternative to blogging? A few partners mentioned their president’s email updates as an effective communication method, so consider providing senior leadership a monthly summary of your progress. Our partners recommend using photos, infographics, and/or surprising data points to help tell the story.

Layer #2: Make the work visible in college meetings.

The most frequent response about effective internal communications? Our partners said: Meetings. Specifically: Department meetings, committee meetings, and “role alike” meetings.

While a blog or newsletter may help introduce your work, meetings are where the ideas can really spread. This is one of my regrets. I wish I had encouraged our design team members to share regular updates in their departmental and governance meetings – or designated a team member with public speaking superpowers to go on tour (remember: build on your strengths!). College-wide convenings are also prime opportunities to make your work visible … and to open up the conversation. For example, I organized a session inspired by an idea that emerged in our design process. When a dean was shocked she didn’t know students could get free bus passes, she suggested the college showcase all of the learner resources available during in-service. (So we did just that).

Layer #3: Don’t forget the power of 1:1 conversations.

Some final insights from our partners: “Make phone calls (instead of emails)” … or even “direct emails” to individuals. Also: A few folks emphasized “personal relationships” as an effective way to communicate. For a former newspaper editor trained in one-way mass communications, this is easy for me to forget: Every interaction is an opportunity to lead change. This takes me back to my college’s very first design session with the Lab. Small groups of faculty and staff interviewed eight learners, face-to-face, about their favorite experiences and how they were making decisions. Over and over again, the students talked about the personal relationships they developed along their college journeys. Relationship-building is also one of the most long-lasting impacts of our work with the Lab. Our design challenge created time and space to work with colleagues across departments – and that alone was transformative. One longtime advisor at the college was so moved we took the time to interview her as part of the “understand” phase, she surprised me with a small jack-o-lantern decoration to show her gratitude. (She knew Halloween was my favorite holiday.) That thoughtful gift stays on my desk as a reminder of the power of this work.

If I were still at the college, I would focus more energy on developing one-on-one relationships with the deans. Why the deans? Before leaving, I helped lead a governance group tasked with interviewing employees as part of our strategic planning process. One of the questions we asked was some version of, “What communications from the college do you pay attention to?” It became clear that faculty, especially, were overloaded by email … but they made sure to pay attention to emails from their deans. I couldn’t get to know every faculty member, but occasional coffee chats with the deans might have created more understanding about their needs – and more effective communications across the college. I would have probably blogged about that, too.

So to recap:
  • We learn, connect, and lead change through storytelling.
  • Build from your strengths: What are your communications superpowers? Writing? Photography? Public speaking? Start there.
  • Layer your communications like a lasagna: Multiple times, multiple ways.
  • Layer #1: Share project updates through a first-person blog … or at least by email.
  • Layer #2: Make the work visible in college meetings.
  • Layer #3: Don’t forget the power of 1:1 conversations.

We’ll ask you the same questions: How do you share information internally at the college? What is most effective? And also: How have you shared your work with the Lab? We’d love to highlight your ideas and blog posts in a future story. Email

Stephanie Ogilvie Seagle, the Lab’s communications director, combines her experience with daily journalism, design thinking, and community colleges to tell the story of the Lab and its innovative partners.
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The Lab Looks Back at 2021: A Year of Resilience, Collaboration + Innovation

Together, We Found a Gateway to Community College Transformation … and 7 More Breakthroughs of 2021

As we head into the fourth surge of the COVID-19 virus that was supposed to be “over” by that first summer, it’s hard to be positive about the past two years. 

But … it has to be said … COVID has been the mother of invention and incredible driver for innovation on the part of the “intra-preneur” heroes in higher education. 

To support students in crisis, you have pushed the boundaries of flexible and portable learning. To get access to the federal and state funding flowing in, you have forged partnerships across the “learner journey” with high school districts, workforce investment boards, employer groups and intermediaries. 

Particularly for new majority learners, you are repackaging learning opportunities to be more flexible, affordable, relevant, portable, and visible to help displaced workers build agile skills portfolios.  And you did it all under threat to your own personal health and well-being. 

We are awed as we close this difficult year by your resilience, at how you accelerated the pace of innovation on behalf of your students.  

The Lab would like to name some of the 2021 innovations we witnessed and were humbled to be a part of: 


1. Together, we found a possible gateway to community college transformation: Micro-pathways

The Community College Growth Engine Fund, led by Dr. Lisa Larson, is the Lab’s design accelerator that was set up just before the pandemic to help community colleges lean into a future role as regional talent agents in a skills-based economy. Six of the nation’s largest community colleges and systems joined the Fund’s first cohort, surpassing their goals by designing 30 micro-pathways in 2021. What are micro-pathways? These stackable, employer-validated credentials take less than a year to earn and connect low-wage and entry-level workers to in-demand jobs that pay at-or-above median wage. Lab founder Kathleen DeLaski and Lee Lambert, chancellor of Pima Community College, argue that micro-pathways are the gateway to community college transformation in this CCDaily essay.

What’s next: Community college leaders, employers, funders, and learners will share their progress during the CCGEF National Convening on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022. (Register here for the free, virtual event.) Also happening on Jan. 19: The Lab will announce the community colleges joining Cohort 2 and release the Fund’s first Design Insights Brief, which can spark action at your own college.


2. Together, we’re re-imagining higher ed’s role in regional ecosystem transformation

In 2021, the Lab assembled a cohort of 12 higher education leaders as Designers in Residence to tackle this critical question: How might higher education strengthen and evolve to better drive regional ecosystem alignment?

Through a process of ecosystem mapping, we gained the critical takeaway: Partnerships that are strongest are not connected merely by regional geography. Rather, the strongest ecosystem partnerships are those that are connected by a shared vision, collective goal, and transcend a time-bound contract. Partnerships rooted in a shared vision enable proactive rather than reactive planning and are more likely to outlast leadership transitions, staff turnover and short-term funding. 

What’s next: We look forward to publishing our actionable framework for higher education’s role in regional ecosystems transformation in 2022, and we can’t wait to share how our Designers in Residence are putting these levers into action. A few are already leading the national conversation, including Dr. Michael Baston of Rockland Community College and Dr. Adrian K. Haugabrook of Southern New Hampshire University. 


3. Together, we’re sharpening design tools to meaningfully engage earner-learners

In 2021, The Lab published a major paper and hosted a webinar about the Learner Engagement Framework, which explains the three key drivers of engagement: Growth, belonging, and agency. The paper shares recommendations to help educators better support new majority learners

What’s next: In 2022, we will more deeply integrate the framework in our design process and work with national partners to make it more accessible to educators, employers and Lab partners through webinars and short courses.


4. Together, we’re designing with and for even more employers

In 2021, the Lab was ecstatic to work with employers across various projects, from the Business Roundtable, to our 11-college micro-pathway initiative, and to a “general education of the future” project with Western Governors University. We also released our popular Employer Engagement Guidebook for the Design + Delivery of Micro-pathways.

We continue to work with employers to identify the core combination of 21st century and technical skills needed for specific job roles with our T-Profile tool. In our analysis of 100+ profiles, we can name the most in-demand 21st century skills by employers across more than a dozen industries in 2021:

  • Initiative
  • Collaboration
  • Oral Communication


What’s next: We will make our T-profile tool more tech-enabled, which will allow us to double the size of our library, to make the data publicly available, and continue to drive the conversation around the importance of 21st century skills and for employers to be more precise about the right combination of 21st century skills and technical skills. Employers are clearly hungry for new credentials and assessments to validate these less tangible skills that are so valuable in the fast-changing, ambiguous workplaces of today and tomorrow. We’re ready to help them!


5. Together, we’re helping earner-learners make their hidden skills more visible

In summer 2021, we launched XCredit — or “Experience Credit” — an initiative to capture and validate in-demand (but often hidden) skills so that the credential-earner can showcase their skills to employers, indicate fit for job roles, and increase their economic mobility. So far, we’ve learned people’s lived and work experiences are diverse and sometimes do not show up on their resumes; the opportunities to validate their many skills is a burgeoning opportunity space. No one validation method will align to and capture the breadth of people’s experiences, but we are leading the way to build and test a system to do this.

What’s next: In 2022, we move from prototypes to piloting with military and civilian populations, while continuing to build out our suite of skill validation tools and methods.


6. Together, we’re shaping the skills-based ecosystem

We are very proud of our work with Open Skills Network to take our foundational 21st century skills digital micro-credential competency framework into a digitized format called Rich Skills Descriptors that will catalyze learner-earners’ visibility of achieved skills.

There were many lessons learned: 

  1. The value of an “open” skills library with rich details and a common language about the 21st century skills in a digital format. 
  2. Deeper, boundary-spanning partnerships are essential and help guide the thinking on how we can best operationalize our digital micro-credentials in ways that will transform the value of these credentials in the hiring process.
  3. The Lab has a presence and responsibility as a magnetizing connector for the different ecosystem stakeholders across ed tech, philanthropy, higher ed, K-12, and more.


What’s next: Additional pilots with the Open Skills Network are underway. We’ve expanded our work with international partners and are leveraging the developed Rich Skills Descriptor collectors in multiple skills and program systems to provide access to our framework at scale.


7. Together, we’re designing for today’s teens to be career-ready

College enrollment continues to decline, and young people are navigating a new world with different ways to learn and all types of postsecondary options. 

In 2021, the Lab partnered with the Best Buy Social Impact team on a four-month design sprint focused on expanding postsecondary programming for today’s teens attending Best Buy Teen Tech Centers across the country. 

The Lab also launched Propel Polk!, a first-in-the-nation pilot to teach 21st century skills to Polk County (Florida) high school students, who will receive digital micro-credentials for their resumes. The ultimate goal of this pilot is to see how the intentional teaching of 21st century skills can increase rates of graduation, job placement, and higher education matriculation.

What’s next: We will continue elevating the voices of teenage learners in the design work across the Lab. 


8. Together, we’re learning to design virtually

The pandemic may have disrupted our in-person design sessions, but we were able to engage so many different stakeholders in the virtual space, especially in our BRIDGES Rural project. Participants who may not have had the ability to join — or felt as comfortable sharing in person — were empowered in 2021.

We learned to be unafraid of trying a new platform or tool — and to feel free to experiment or even fail forward.

The Lab’s in-person team retreat in December became a hybrid learning experience, as we simultaneously worked on strategic questions both in person and virtually. 

What’s next: Hybrid design! As much as we value our virtual experience, so much comes from stepping on to a new campus and learning even more about the places and the spaces that are supporting learners and communities.


The Lab’s 8 Media Highlights for 2021:


  1. Community College Daily: Have we found the gateway to transform community colleges?
  2. Axios: A conversation on innovation in learning
  3. Inside Higher Ed: Reimagining Supports to Help Single Moms
  4. The Washington Post: Opinion: Prince George’s students don’t need credentials to nowhere
  5. Inside Higher Ed: From Crisis Comes Opportunity
  6. Work Shift: A new take on certifying ‘soft’ skills—first for veterans, then everyone
  7. Fierce Education: Investing in Two-Year Colleges to Support Rural Communities
  8. Real Clear Education: Funding Community Colleges and Embracing Micro-credentials is an Equity Mandate


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Season’s Readings: 7 Book Picks from the Lab’s 2021 Designers in Residence

As many of us head into a well-deserved winter break, we wanted to share some reading recommendations from a few of the Lab’s  Designers in Residence 2021 cohort.

When these higher education innovators aren’t leading their institutions in designing regional, learner-centered ecosystems, they are likely to be immersed in powerful reads. 

We hope you’ll check them out … and share your own picks with our #InnovatorNetwork on Twitter.

Lisa Larson

Ed.D, former President of Eastern Maine Community College and Head of Community College Growth Engine Fund, Education Design Lab (bio)

Change the Culture, Change the Game: The Breakthrough Strategy for Energizing Your Organization and Creating Accountability for Results

Roger Connors and Tom Smith share and apply their practical strategies to helping leaders accelerate culture change, energize their organizations, and create greater accountability for results. I appreciated the Results Pyramid model, which is a simple methodology for efficiently and effectively changing the way people think and act throughout to achieve their desired results, providing a guide in driving difficult cultural change.

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown. 

This book offers as set of guideposts toward wholehearted living, which involves “engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness.” The guideposts include cultivating self-compassion, cultivating a resilient spirit, cultivating calm and stillness, and finding meaningful work.

A few statements in this book have continued to sit with me. She wrote that “when we don’t give ourselves permission to be free, we rarely tolerate that freedom in others.” She also wrote: “We cannot selectively numb emotions. When we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.” And I really liked her definition of connection:  “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”

Nicole L. McDonald

Ph.D., Assistant Vice Provost, Student Success Strategies, University of Houston (bio)

You Are a Data Person: Strategies for Using Analytics on Campus, by Amelia Parnell

The use of data and evidence to elevate, innovate, and expand priorities, strategies, policies, and practices for the students we actually serve is essential to student success. This book expands the discussion of the value and engagement in/around data in every role across campus.

Jairo McMican

Dean of Student Learning, Central Carolina Community College (bio)

Nice Racism: How Progressive White People Perpetuate Racial Harm by Robin DiAngelo

This is a nice follow up to “White Fragility.” DiAngelo really exposes a lot more about her personal journey. 

The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety: Defining the Path to Inclusion and Innovation by Dr. Timothy Clark

This book was simply amazing! It was an easy read packed full of insightful information. I have already planned to facilitate professional development at my institution and around the state based on this book.


Stacy Townsley

Ph.D., VP for Adult Strategy and Statewide Partnerships, Ivy Tech Community College (bio)

Human Work: In the Age of Smart Machines, Jamie Merisotis

Inspiring read — Merisotis envisions a more connected post-secondary education and workforce ecosystem that is, essentially, strengths-based and affirming of our individual and collective capacity to engage in meaningful, fulfilling work at all levels.


Leah Moschella

Senior Education Designer leading the Designers in Residence cohort (bio)

How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning of the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith

This book combines powerful storytelling and personal experiences with history in a thought-provoking and captivating narrative. The author explores eight places of historical significance across the United States, from Monticello to New York City. Each place connects to an often untold part of the American story and is a reminder that by exploring our challenging past we might better understand the opportunities to connect as humans designing a more equitable future.

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The Lab’s Innovation Capacity Assessment

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An Inside Look: From Prototypes to Pilot Design with Our BRIDGES Rural Cohort

In July 2021, we convened with our BRIDGES Rural cohort institutions in-person for the first time, after everyone was fully vaccinated.


This last July, the Lab’s BRIDGES Rural team alongside design partners and stakeholders from each institution in the BRIDGES cohort gathered at Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor, ME. The result? Two days spent in-person full of thought partnership, prototype iteration, and community building. 

Over the past six months, the BRIDGES Rural cohort has demonstrated that transformational change can happen quickly if you are open-minded to possibilities, hungry for learning, action-oriented, and committed to building more learner-centered, equitable futures.


“Human-centered design has really allowed us as an institution to step back, take some time, and trust the process, as well as get feedback from all stakeholders, including our students because they are our stakeholders, to help us make solid decisions in our pilot moving forward.” – Tracey Porter, Zane State College


Working in a totally virtual manner since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed us to rethink many parts of our design process. Virtual gallery walks and convenings have allowed our partners and their communities to access events from wherever they are, and introduced them to different technology platforms where they can continuously connect and collaborate with us and one another. The progress the BRIDGES teams made in the last six months–while they worked remotely, while COVID cases spiked in their communities, while bringing learners back to campuses, and so much more–exceeded expectations of what we thought was possible. We deeply value the online community of practice we’ve built through BRIDGES, which offers our partners the opportunity to learn from people across the country they otherwise may never interact with, and yet there will always be something special about working together back on-campus. 

Leading up to the in-person convening, we created and tested video prototypes of each institution’s new models with a variety of key stakeholders: current, prospective, and stopped-out college learners in their local communities; a variety of employers, economic developers, and representatives of community-based organizations; faculty and staff from their colleges; fellow cohort members; members of the Lab team; and national rural higher ed and workforce thought leaders and practitioners. 

The feedback each institution received directly informed how each team transformed their prototypes into pilot designs during the two days. Core to the Lab’s work, pilot designs must fulfill a set of agreed upon and data-informed design criteria that reflect the Lab’s and each initiative’s theory of change. 


Design criteria for the BRIDGES Rural initiative pilots:

  • Increase access to employment opportunities with living wages
  • Address learners’ needs, including growth, belonging, and agency, with a focus on those who have been systematically underinvested in and underserved
  • Enable institution to develop stronger partnerships with employers and community based organizations
  • Create models that are sustainable and scalable
  • Impact learners of focus who have been systematically underinvested in and underserved
  • Make learning visible, portable, affordable, flexible, and relevant for new majority learners


Different sessions during the July convening provided an opportunity for cohort teams to dive deeper into these design criteria, with further input from experts to support them in evaluating the extent to which their prototypes met these criteria, and how they might incorporate new learnings into their prototypes. 

We kicked off the two days with Dr. Naomi Boyer, the Lab’s director of credentialing products, who spoke on the importance of making learning visible in the digital skills economy. After in-depth brainstorming with their cohort community of practice on how teams might connect their learners with the digital skills economy, the institutional teams worked to incorporate these learnings into their prototypes. Employer feedback and validation was top of mind as the teams explored the potential impact of micro-credentials and badging in their communities.


“To design a strong local skills ecosystem that stimulates economic vitality, all contributing members must be engaged in the co-designed experience. In the development of career micro-pathways, response services, and credentials, identifying new and innovative ways to digitally showcase what learner-earner ‘know and can do’ can simultaneously nurture a robust talent pipeline AND attract new business.” – Dr. Naomi Boyer, the Lab’s director of credentialing products


Building on this, the convening welcomed an employer panel to discuss what the future of work looks like in their given industries. Many of the employers present spoke about rapid changes in their industries and emphasized that they do not have two to three years to fill open job vacancies–they need to hire people now and want to work with their local colleges to develop creative ways to support learners. This led to thoughtful discussion of the value of earn-and-learn models and of curricula infused with 21st century skills, which employers specifically called out as some of their top priorities. 


“It was interesting to hear so many of the employers talk about how they wanted learning-oriented employees and how 21st century skills, badges, and micro-credentials are the signals that employers want and need as they hire new employees.” – BRIDGES Rural cohort faculty member 


Across people in the cohort and on the employer panel, the topic of affordable housing for workers and learners resonated strongly. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in increased demand for real estate in rural areas that was already at the tipping point before so many more people found themselves with the opportunity to work remotely. As the wealth disparity continues to grow in these rural destinations, more and more multi-generational families find themselves priced out of their own hometowns. This exacerbates other barriers—we dive into these in depth in Design Insights, PART 1: Understanding the Potential of Rural Community College Learners, published in June 2021—like transportation for employees and learners as they are forced to move further away from their workplaces. 

Earlier this year our evaluators and partners at Higher Ed Insight asked each BRIDGES Rural cohort team what kinds of changes they hope this human-centered design process will bring to their learners, their institutions, and their communities. These ranged from better understanding all of the learners in their regions to developing more localized pictures of their economies, and from creating stronger alignment between faculty and the local industries to  community-wide awareness that higher education and training can support individuals reaching their career goals.

During the July convening, HEI led the cohort teams to explore how they wanted to update and add to these early vision statements, after being immersed in learner and community voices for the past six months. 

Each of the five cohort teams emerged from the event with a pilot design focused on building their college’s capacity to serve as an engine for economic growth in their region, as well as an action plan for how to bring this pilot to life, including ideas they will start to operationalize this week. 


“The feedback on our pilot was so helpful! I am really excited about helping learners find their voice and their path, as well as identify their support teams (these are all part of our pilot project). I loved hearing from the employers on the employer panel yesterday, and I am excited to keep thinking about what we learned from them and how we can incorporate these thoughts into our work moving forward.” – Megan London, Early Childhood Education faculty, Eastern Maine Community College 

“I love the feedback we’ve gotten from our fellow cohort members that is helping us to improve our pilot model! My biggest takeaway from the convening is the power of the BRIDGES theory of change and how we can use this in our work college-wide and system-wide.” – Lisa Larson, president, Eastern Maine Community College


The early pilot designs developed by the BRIDGES Rural cohort provide inspiring examples of how colleges can build models that simultaneously center historically underinvested learners and drive toward greater economic growth and agility in their rural regions. To wrap up the convening, teams drafted headlines describing the impact these pilot programs aim to have in the future.


Future-forward Headlines + Visioning for the BRIDGES Rural Pilot Programs: 

  • CEI connects the community with training and jobs that meet people where they are! 
  • Go far while staying here
  • Micro-Pathways Bring BIG Career Results
  • WSCC supports lifelong learning while driving the local economy
  • Achieve your dreams at ZSC while providing for your family


During the fall of 2021, BRIDGES Rural institutional teams will continue to gather feedback on their pilot designs from learners and other stakeholders in their communities. Each team will receive an additional incentive grant to help support and sustain their pilots as they work toward their January 2022 launch. We look forward to seeing how the BRIDGES Rural community of practice carries each pilot design to successful launch, producing the economic impact people in these regions are hoping for.

Check out our BRIDGES Rural July Convening video for an inside look at our work (also available below), and follow the teams as they move from pilot to implementation on Twitter @BridgesRural. Learn more about our BRIDGES Rural initiative here

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Announcing 12 Designers in Residence to Reimagine the Role of Higher Education

Dear partners and innovators,

Today, we are excited to announce the selection of 12 higher education leaders to join our Designers in Residence program. Spanning a diverse cross-section of communities, institutional positionality, and lived experience and expertise, the Designers in Residence will lean on their collective expertise and work as a design team to co-create a roadmap for colleges to serve as regional change agents leading efforts to close economic and racial opportunity gaps.

In 2021, 22% fewer students enrolled in higher education than prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, a number that increases to 30% for students from low-income high schools. Simultaneously, 42% of jobs lost during the pandemic may disappear forever, requiring postsecondary education to reimagine how learners are prepared to enter the workforce. 

Designers in Residence will tackle this reality by identifying the transformations necessary for higher education systems to build a more equitable future for the new majority learner—learners that higher ed was not designed for and often designed to keep out, including Black, indigenous, and Latinx learners, immigrant learners, first generation college students, and learners from low income backgrounds. 

The members of the Designers in Residence cohort include: 

  • Michael Baston, President, Rockland Community College
  • Bonita Brown, Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer, Northern Kentucky University
  • Ahmad Ezzeddine, Associate Vice President of Educational Outreach and International Programs, Wayne State University
  • Chanel L. Fort, Director of Academic Innovation and Learning Strategist, Fortified Learning Solutions, Stillman College
  • Rose Rojas, Interim Director of Workforce Strategy, Maricopa Community College
  • Adrian Haugabrook, Executive Vice President and Managing Director, Social Impact Collective, Southern New Hampshire University
  • Lisa Larson, President, Eastern Maine Community College
  • Cameron McCoy, Incoming Provost, Shenandoah University
  • Nicole McDonald, Assistant Vice President, University of Houston 
  • Jairo McMican, Dean of Student Learning/Director of Equity and Pathways, Central Carolina Community College
  • Ian Roark, Vice President of Workforce Development and Strategic Partnerships, Pima Community College
  • Stacy Townsley, Vice President of Adult Strategy and Statewide Partnerships, Ivy Tech Community College

The launch and development of this program builds off of the Lab’s extensive experience supporting and advising personnel at colleges and universities through ongoing initiatives such as the BRIDGES Rural initiative, the Community College Growth Engine Fund, and the UNCF Career Pathways Initiative. 

Meet the cohort and learn more.

Read the full press release from PR Newswire.

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Education Design Lab Launches Designers in Residence Program to Strengthen the Role of Colleges and Universities as Regional Catalysts

WASHINGTON, D.C. (February,  2021) – Education Design Lab, a national nonprofit and leader in the design, implementation, and scaling of new learning models for higher education and the future of work, today announced the launch of a new national program that will lead a design team of leaders from colleges and universities in co-creating the future role of colleges in their communities. 

The 2021-2022 cohort will bring together a design team of 10 visionary thinkers and doers from post-secondary institutions who are the go-to people at their institution or system engaging in the development of regionally-focused partnerships that are driving college access, economic mobility, and workforce readiness. Beginning in May 2021, the Designers in Residence will work as a design team to co-create a vision that centers the needs of their learners within a new “school-to-work” economy, and provide the start of a roadmap for other institutions and innovators seeking to build and scale this ideal system. 

Each Designer in Residence will receive a $5,000 stipend to support their work on campus and a $5,000 grant award for their home institution upon completion of the program, for a total direct investment of $10,000. Designers in Residence will work alongside the Lab in shaping a national discourse, learn and train in the Lab’s learner- and employer-centered design process, iterate new strategies for their work, and lead the start of a life-long network of leaders across the country seeking to reshape higher ed and the learn-to-work journey.

“With degree participation rates severely impacted by COVID-19, particularly for students of color, colleges are seizing the moment to act as regional catalysts in creating opportunities for their learners,” said Kathleen deLaski, president and founder of Education Design Lab. “The leaders selected to participate in this Designers in Residence program will help to catalyze a community of practitioners who are honing effective practices within regional systems of higher education and workforce development—at a time when collaboration across sectors is sorely needed.”

Over the past seven years, the Lab has worked successfully with more than 100 colleges and universities, from HBCUs and religiously-affiliated institutions to public universities and community colleges. The Lab specializes in supporting colleges and universities co-design new models and approaches to respond to the changing needs of learners and employers.

The launch and development of this program builds off of the Lab’s extensive experience supporting and advising personnel at colleges and universities through ongoing initiatives such as the BRIDGES Rural initiative, the Community College Growth Engine Fund, and the UNCF Career Pathways Initiative. This program is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and views expressed by the program do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of the foundation.

Interested applicants can apply between now and March 21, 2021. To submit an application or nominate someone for this program, please visit


Read the press release on PR Newswire here.


news and events

Join Us 3/3: Redesigning Higher Ed to Support New Majority Learners’ Engagement

Dear partners and innovators,


The past year has accentuated the ways in which higher education is out of step with the life experiences, perspectives, and goals of new majority learners—students historically considered “nontraditional” who make up the majority of learners today.

In response to the upheaval of COVID-19, a worrisome drop off in enrollment among communities of color, and a national reckoning on race, many institutions are feeling a heightened sense of urgency to redesign systems and programs to remove barriers and generate opportunities for new majority learners. That redesign must start with better understanding these learners so that institutions can support their deep engagement with their learning and their success in reaching their goals. 

Join us on March 3 @ 12-1pm EST for “Redesigning Higher Ed to Support New Majority Learners’ Engagement”

Featuring: the release of “Walk in My Shoes”: An Actionable Learner Engagement Framework to Foster Growth, Belonging, and Agency and a roundtable discussion of insights from the the first in the Lab’s Toolkit publication series and expert perspectives in how institutions are rethinking learner engagement. 

The discussion will feature:


“Walk in My Shoes”: An Actionable Learner Engagement Framework to Foster Growth, Belonging, and Agency will be available for download on March 3, 2021. This toolkit centers an engagement framework two years in the making, based on interviews with hundreds of learners for whom higher education was never designed. Research and work in the field demonstrate that this can best be facilitated through focusing on learners’ sense of growth, agency, and belonging.

Register Now

news and events

Congratulations, 2020 College Completion Innovation Fund Awardees!

Faculty and staff from a participating Graduate NYC college gather to revise their program prototype.


Our partners at Graduate NYC recently announced the recipients of the 2020 College Completion Innovation Fund (CCIF). Congratulations to the awardees and the team at Graduate NYC! The groups demonstrated so much perseverance during the spring semester as the COVID-19 pandemic impacted their institutions, their organizations, and their learners. We also extend our condolences to the broader CUNY community, where Graduate NYC is housed, which suffered numerous losses among its administration, faculty and staff as a result of the pandemic.

The Lab is proud to have worked with this year’s CCIF recipients to help them produce robust, competitive proposals featuring learner-centered solutions. Earlier this year, Graduate NYC invited the Lab to facilitate two sessions focused on human-centered design in support of the fund and its mission to spur innovation and the adoption of policies and practices to increase college degree completion in New York City. 

Twenty-three New York City-based undergraduate colleges and nonprofit community-based organizations (CBOs) took part in the sessions. Using human centered design principles and structured activities, the Lab challenged participants to expand their proposal ideas by incorporating learners’ voices and needs into their early prototypes. After the workshops, the colleges and CBOs continued to iterate their concepts for final submission to the fund. 

“Graduate NYC greatly valued our collaboration with the Lab this year,” said Graduate NYC director, Melissa Herman. “We received great feedback on your workshops and the expertise your designers brought to the table, before and after the sessions as well. As a result, we had a strong docket of proposals for this year’s College Completion Innovation Fund. While it was quite tough to get down to the ultimate selection, our team is really excited about the five that were picked.”

This year’s awardees will focus on completion efforts that will serve non-native speakers; transfer students; adult students with some college, but no degree; and learners coming back after a stop-out. Among the new solutions is a student-led initiative on understanding the challenges CUNY learners face when it comes to their basic needs. 

Learn more about the 2020 CCIF Awardees.


Single Moms Success

How might community colleges dramatically improve completion rates for single mothers by intentionally addressing the unique needs of this population?


Each year 2.1 million single mothers enroll in postsecondary education, representing over 11% of the entire postsecondary population, according to research from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Despite their significant presence in the postsecondary sector, single mothers are rarely the focus of campus programming and little is known about the best ways to move the needle for these learners. 

The Single Moms Success Design Challenge is a two-year, student-centered design and prototype process led by the Education Design Lab. Through this challenge, four regionally accredited, public community colleges from across the country will design, launch and test scalable interventions aimed at dramatically improving attainment rates for single mothers who seek to obtain a degree or high-quality credential from a community college. The challenge goal is to improve attainment rates of degrees or high-quality credentials for single mother learners by 30% at each institution by 2024. The cohort will improve education outcomes for a total of 6,000 – 8,000 single mother learners.

Primary Audience

Single mother learners

Project Length

March 1, 2019 - December 1, 2024

Numbers of Learners Impacted

At scale, expected 6,000-8,000


Central New Mexico Community College (New Mexico)Delgado Community College (Louisiana)Ivy Tech Community College (Indiana)Monroe Community College (New York)