Partnering on a Program (with 1-2 other offices) was the career services trend of the 90's and early 2000's that really shaped how we connect with the campus. Today, the pressures and needs have evolved, and partnering, while still good, can only go so far. Many are taking it a step further and hooking into the campus ecosystem in various ways. This can lead to scaled impact.
The picture for this post is one I took on a family trip up to Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. It is one of the most photographed areas in the Rockies. I am grateful it is only an hour from our home. It is also, at about 10,000 ft altitude, a fairly contained mountain ecosystem. There you can breath truly fresh air and see waterfalls, elk, albino fish, magpies, colorful bugs, unique trees, wildflowers and surreal mountain views; all the animals, plants, and insects have their unique role in cultivating this ecosystem, and they feed off each other in natural and unique ways. It's a simply breathtaking place to visit.
In the Colorado mountain trails there are very few signs, or laws, or policies. You might think that would lead to a bit of a wild west culture, and it can, but that is rare because of the one rule everyone knows: You don't harm the ecosystem, you care for it, and you cultivate it - because it gives you life. In fact, the Bear Lake ecosystem is right next to the Continental Divide, and with the intentionality of the National Parks staff of engineers, it just so happens to melt its winter snowpack through all the right gorges and river canyons to provide water for Fort Collins, Colorado, where my family and I live. Some great people did the hard upfront work to set-up systems that connected us to this important ecosystem. Because of their forethought to integrate us, we get water all year round. Our water supply is now scaled to regularity with very little ongoing maintenance on the part of the staff.
College campuses also have an ecosystem - an inter-connected system the all works together. Sometimes it's like the wild west, and sometimes people harm it and silo it, making it less connected. The savvy career leaders are now hooking into this campus ecosystem in new and creative ways, for the benefit of serving more students, and for the sanity of their staff teams.
I believe that integration is the mother of all scale! Go where students are mandated to go, and where they already want to be, and where the existing cultures, systems, and traditions happen, and then learn how to integrate in a way they want... and your message and services will start to pick up speed like a rushing river, without you present. Then you will realize how beautiful the cultivated ecosystem truly is!
Take a look at this contrast:
In the Summer of 2017, I led ideation sessions at our three Think Tanks on scaling career services that specifically sought to discern how career services can operationalize hooking into the campus ecosystem. However, we provided attendees with a big constraint during this particular ideation session: They were not allowed to put forth an idea that was a program/workshop. They had to dream up connections that might actually produce big results with the same of less effort - and frankly, programs usually don't scale well.
We discussed eight areas of the campus ecosystem career services would do well to connect with. It's up to each campus to figure out which of these, or a different one, is the next best connection point for them. I recommend having similar discussions on your team about one, or a handful of the following functional areas:
Fundraising and Advancement
University-Wide Marketing and Communications
Institutional Assessment and Data
Life Long Learning / Continuing Education for all
Key questions to ask if you are just getting started at hooking into the ecosystem:
1. What services are already mandatory for all students on our campus?
2. What are the biggest campus traditions?
3. Where do large volumes of students already go?
As you converse with your campus partners on a regular basis, do you find yourself talking only about programs? I encourage you to experiment with a non-programmatic brainstorm about how your systems and processes might intersect for the benefit of both your missions.
Jeremy Podany is an innovation, leadership, and organization growth connoisseur who has helped nearly 1,000 organizations and 500 leaders, having nearly 40 leadership roles in the last 20 years. Jeremy has enjoyed a career in higher education, has helped build six unique start-ups, and is currently the Founder, CEO, and Senior Consultant of The Career Leadership Collective and the Co-Founder of The Fairs App.