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Radical Collaboration in Career Services

It’s hard to believe that it’s been just a little over a year ago since we’ve embraced RADICAL COLLABORATION as one of our mantras this past year. As we look back, we can see the impact of these two powerful words which empowered our team to start taking considerable action with each other, our students, and now on to our campus partners. In Designing Your Life Bill Burnett and Dale Evans describe radical collaboration this way,

”You are not alone...many of the best ideas are going to come from other people. You just need to ask. And know the right questions to ask.”

Letting go of the pressure of thinking each of us individually had to have the right answer or provide the perfect solution to any given problem has been incredibly freeing.

We’d had our eye on design thinking for a while after reading a Chronicle article about Bill Burnett and Dave Evans a few years ago. With over 20+ years in advising, Bill Watts loved the concept of students creating and testing their career ideas and life plans; so when the book was released, we thought it would be a great activity for our career advising staff to read.

Our initial purpose in reading DYL was to grasp and facilitate design thinking with the students we serve. Little did we know the concepts of ideation, reframing, prototyping, identifying critical questions, radical collaboration, and the freedom to fail, would influence our own vision and process as we created new tools, engaged students and collaborated with campus partners. We’d like to share some of the ways design thinking and radical collaboration have already impacted our team, along with how we plan to use these same principles on projects moving forward.

Embrace Radical Collaboration for your Internal Staff Practices First

Our first RADICAL collaboration was as a career advising staff, where we committed to facilitate exploration around life design for our students which resulted in creating new worksheets including a mind-map, blueprints and even a reframing exercise that can help shift a student from feeling ‘stuck’ to opening up new possibilities to reinforce that there’s never just one way or solution.

Design thinking inspired us to restructure our staff meetings – moving away from the individual announcements and updates format. Instead we prototyped a new structure to begin with team shout outs and short energetic team-builders to get us in the mindset of collaboration. We also built in space every meeting to share ideas, reflect and assess our programming and services, or to just check-in with one another on how the tools we had built were working in our appointments. Additionally, we assigned certain sections of the meeting to different staff members whose strengths aligned with that role, sparking more engagement by having more team members helping to facilitate the meetings. We went so far promoting collaboration we painted our conference room walls with white board paint so we ideate and work in small or large groups at any given time.

By embracing Radical Collaboration, we actively remind ourselves that everything is constantly evolving, there’s more than one way or solution and we are never stuck; especially when we work together to figure out the next best step.

Practice Radical Collaboration with Campus Partners and Beyond

Our next phase began sharing the concepts of design thinking and life design with more audiences. A presentation at our regional Academic Advising Conference, as well as Bill sharing our work in a Student Success Directors meeting led to more interest and workshop requests across campus. These opportunities challenged us to experiment, prototype and collaborate on a bigger scale by facilitating DYL workshops with our Honors Program, Nebraska Women’s Leadership Network and many more. One of our most exciting collaborations which emerged, was with our First Huskers Program where we trained 15+ staff and peer mentors to infuse the Life Design workshop to 400+ first generation students in their fall seminar course. First Huskers loved the mantra of Experiment, Fail, Learn, Repeat so much they asked us to partner with them to create laptop stickers displaying this mantra with the goal of adopting this mindset for their students and staff. Additionally, we’ve had invitations to speak to first year students entering Kansas State University’s Design School and have shared our workshop and worksheets with multiple other regional schools who are now prototyping these concepts on their campuses. Just as we let go of individual team members having to solve/own every problem, engaging in radical collaboration helped us let go of thinking our unit had to solve/own problems and made us partners in expanding design thinking ideas.

Dream Big

As we look to the future, scaling career development will take Radical Collaboration and we believe design thinking will be integral to our efforts. Engaging students in questions of - Who am I? Who do I want to be? & How do I get there? intersects with both academic and career advising units, and frankly has the potential to engage just about every stakeholder on campus. What faculty or staff member does not have the opportunity to engage students in these questions at some point? Taking direction from other CLC members who’ve focused on Influencer Networks, and infusing career development into the classroom, we hope to create a culture at UNL where everyone, from faculty to peer mentor expects to ask and be asked some version of those three critical questions.

One of our next steps is around aligning onboarding and ongoing professional development opportunities for all academic and career advisors. We hope to accomplish this through hiring a Training and Professional Development Specialist who will focus efforts around content and delivery methods for on-boarding and professional development. We operate in a centrally coordinated environment where services in both areas are delivered de-centrally, often at the college level. Bringing some vision, uniformity and commonality in our training and professional development, will allow both services to thrive in coaching/developmental models which will transform our focus to engage students in thoughtful life planning, opposed to transactional services. Once developed the content can be leveraged for use with additional student service staff in the future.

Intentional life planning includes thoughtful integration of academic planning, course enrollment and demand management, with progression tracking. We are currently partnering with our University Registrar in building those intentional integrations. Once in place, the academic planning tools will provide a framework to include career/life planning aspects in the overall integration. Once unheard of partnerships involving Registrars, Advising leaders and Career Services leaders have the potential to place student service and the concept of holistic life planning (including career and academic planning) at the center of student success and retention. To accomplish this we’ve intentionally built structures which bring together the groups noted above and units like Financial Aid, Admissions, Honors, First Year Experience, and Learning Communities. With monthly meetings which provide a forum for discussion and ideation, leaders have coalesced around the concept of building tools which support planning, enrollment and progression tracking.


Whether considering Social Innovation, the role of academic advising and career services on our campuses, scaling career services across our campuses, or infusing design thinking for students or our units, the key for us in the last 12 months has been Radical Collaboration. Opening ourselves to Experiment, Fail, Learn, and Repeat as a mantra, and letting go of the need to be the person or office with all the answers has enabled us to go new places with new partners. For us, Radical Collaboration has moved us to an environment where we share problems and solutions, working in office teams and cross campus teams to uncover barriers and build results.

Tracy Lungrin is the Associate Director of Student Experience at University of Nebraska-Lincoln in Career Services. Tracy has twenty plus years of student affairs and higher education experience in a variety of roles that consistently highlight her ability to lead and coach others in their personal, professional and leadership development. She was promoted to Associate Director of Student Experience where she has led a career coaching team in modernizing the way Career Services engages UNL students in their career development. Additionally, she co-authored a book entitled CareerCode which provides a deeper understanding to the career searcher about who they are, what they value, and where they best fit in today’s working world.

Bill Watts is the Director of University Advising and Career Services at University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Serving as an academic advisor, career advisor, and higher education administrator for 20+ years, Bill currently leads campus-wide advising and career services at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. His professional efforts consistently incorporate and encourage collaboration among campus partners and advocacy for changes which directly impact/promote student success initiatives. His current focus includes promoting career development ties to curriculum and partnering with the Registrar and developers from the University system office to design, build and implement a single user interface integrating; notes/records, degree audits, personalized four-year planning tools, progress monitoring, and enrollment planning. Before entering higher education, Bill served in advisory and administrative roles with welfare to work programs and had a successful career in sales.

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